Sidney Bechet Killed a Man
Philip Litwin has a life many would envy. He is a world-renowned heart surgeon with a lovely family, a devoted best friend and a comfortable life. Next to jazz, his work is his biggest passion. Philip views himself as a great healer. He is not modest about his skills. He even goes so far as to compare himself to jazz great Sidney Bechet. However, MetroStage's production of Sidney Bechet Killed a Man reveals that there is a lot more beneath the surface than is evident.
MetroStage is presenting the East Coast premiere of this Stuart Flack play. Directed by Nancy Robillard, the piece is a study of what happens to a man who pays too much attention to his passions and too little attention to the important things in his life.
The play itself is very uneven. There are two conflicting themes running through this piece, and one can't help but wonder about the author's intent. Although Philip compares himself to Sidney Bechet, there is little mention of him nor are their similarities often brought to the forefront. Another running theme is Moby Dick, which is the character's favorite book. There are some strong parallels to the story and the comparisons work well. In fact, they are so successful that it makes the comparisons with Sidney Bechet seem insignificant. It almost feels as if the connection to Bechet was added on as an afterthought.
That is not to say the show is not engrossing. At times it really captures the observer. Mr. Flack knows how to use language well. His dialogue is quite eloquent. Unfortunately, the structure of the play is flawed. Some of the motivations of the characters are clear but others are not fleshed out. The result is a piece that feels unfinished in the end.
There are some very strong performers in this cast. Paul Morella is very appealing as the famous doctor and he totally inhabits the character. However, he seems far too young for this role. It is mentioned that Dr. Litwin is in his early 60s, but he looks closer to 40. It is especially evident during his scenes with the young boy who plays his grandson. Mr. Morella looks more like his father than his grandfather.
As Philip's best friend Marcel, Lawrence Redmond is outstanding and it would have been interesting to see what he would have done with the character of Philip. Kimberly Schraf as Emily, Philip's devoted spouse, is the epitome of the wealthy doctor's wife. Finally, bringing a bit of levity to the piece, Michael Jerome Johnson portrays a number of different characters. He tackles each one with great skill.
As a whole, Sidney Bechet Killed a Man could have been a successful character study. Sadly, it just misses the mark. Sidney Bechet Killed a Man runs at MetroStage through April 6th.
Paul Morella: Philip Litwin