‘Side Effects’ finds a funny side to Parkinson’s disease
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org January 13, 2013 11:03PM
In the solo show “Side Effects May Include ...,” Andrew J. Pond plays a man surprised to learn that his wife’s libido has intensified after her diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease.
‘SIDE EFFECTS MAY INCLUDE...’
When: Through Feb. 10
Where: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Info: (773) 404-7336; www.greenhousetheater.org
Run time: 100 minutes with one intermission
Updated: February 15, 2013 6:17AM
Full disclosure: I did not arrive at the Madkap Productions show “Side Effects May Include ...” — a dramedy about Parkinson’s disease — as a neutral party. I had watched my fiercely private and independent father suffer from the disease for 13 years before he succumbed to its many indignities at the age of 83. I had watched my mother, exhausted but uncomplaining, care for him throughout all that time. And I can attest to the fact that there is nothing at all funny about Parkinson’s — a debilitating and incurable disease that effects the central nervous system in the most profound and visible ways.
The situation portrayed in “Side Effects May Include...,” a one-man play by Marc Jaffe (a former writer for “Seinfeld,” as well as a performer) and playwright Eric Coble, comes at the disease in a very different way.
To begin with, while it is told from the perspective of Phil Rosen (Jaffe’s not entirely flattering alter-ego, played expertly by Andrew J. Pond), it is Rosen’s fortysomething wife (named Maggie here), a successful ob/gyn and mother of a 13-year-old daughter — who has been diagnosed with the disease. Beyond that, it is the impact of one particular side effect of her medication — a fiercely intensified urge for sex after some years of a low libido — that becomes the overriding focus of the show. (Never mind that the low libido may well have been the consequence of a busy work life, the care of a teenage daughter, a long marriage or, possibly, even an early indication of the disease’s onset.)
Of course the sex drive is also the life drive. Fair enough. And not only does sex sell better than disease when it comes to attracting an audience, but it also can be a whole lot funnier. So it’s understandable that Jaffe and Coble chose to explore how an unexpected “positive side effect” of an overall very bad situation played itself out, devolving into yet another big problem. But along the way the nightmare of Parkinson’s gets lost, and the rather overbearing ego of “the husband” grows increasingly annoying.
Yes, there is a brief mention of what it means for a surgeon to realize her professional life will soon be over because of uncontrollable hand tremors. There also is an acknowledgment of what it means to have to keep the disease secret until it no longer can be hidden. And finally, there is a poignant nod to the devastating impact the diagnosis has on the couple’s daughter who clearly knows that Parkinson’s does not get better.
Pond, directed by Wayne Mell, is a fine actor with a wonderfully mobile face, an agile body, excellent instincts and a fine head of strawberry blond hair. And he is admirably true to his character. But that character’s narcissism often verges on the insufferable.
Robert D. Estrin’s lavish set skillfully suggests Phil Rosen’s dual preoccupations, with a bedroom framed by shelves of prescription drugs adjacent to a comedy club stage, and a grand proscenium embedded with marquee-style bulbs encased in pill bottles. A very sparkly picture of a disease that is very short on laughs.