Highly Recommended ***** The time is 1984. The place is a small neighborhood bar in Chicago. The play is called “Chops” and right now, it’s world premiere is taking place at Theater Wit on stage one. Written by Chicago playwright Michael Rychlewski, and smoothly directed by Richard Shavzin, this is the story of three aging “Rush Street” guys, who recall their glory days on the Rush street scene back in the 1960’s, despite their lives going in different directions. Vince ( a magical portrayal by Larry Neumann, Jr.) is the proprietor of this bar, and as the show opens ( there is no curtain, and as we enter the theater, Neumann is cleaning up, checking his drawer and stock, as if he were truly running a bar). A former Rush Street barkeeper, he is one that hears it all, and remembers most of it.
Vince is just barely making it on his own and appears to be extra tense. As he is preparing to close up for the night, one of his old buddies, Walt (deftly handled by Randy Steinmeyer) comes by with a young woman, the lovely, curvaceous Kaki ( the very sexy Clare Cooney) who has allegedly “picked him up elsewhere” and knows her “Jazz”. This has prompted him to bring her to Vince’s where the juke box if filled with the greats of the 50’s and 60’s. Walt has recently been released from a prison term and is back on his feet and trying to show the world that he still has his “Chops”.
As they are drinking and dancing and discussing some of the greats of the days long gone, the third member of the “kings of Rush Street”, Philly ( a strong character played by Daniel Patrick Sullivan) a con-man superior appears. No one has seen or heard from him in almost a year. Rumors are that the “boys” are looking for him and that he owes a bundle of money to them. He appears to be as he was in the old days, vibrant, clever banter, and very flush. The three men talk about their lives and despite Vince trying to close up and send them on their way, they all continue to dance and talk. Kaki knows a great deal about jazz and it appears that Walt and Philly are both hitting on her.
During the course of the 90 minute show, we learn a great deal about the old days of Chicago’s Rush Street, as the three men have a small story-telling contest where the lovely Kaki does the judging- winner take all (each man puts up $100). Not wanting to spoil any of the mystery that Rychlewski brings to the story, I will state that everything does not always turn out as it appears to be, so it is important to pay close attention to the dialogue between theses characters. There are lies within lies all over the place and it is difficult to know what is real and what is not, who is honest and who is the con. In fact, one might think they are all conning each other and that no one is really who they are supposed to be. I cannot say more, as I would hate to ruin this wonderfully told story for anyone.
Being one who worked “the street” back in this time, I know how the street was. I was employed by the Marienthal Brothers at The Happy Medium doing a show called “Medium Rare” back in the early 60’s. The brothers also owned Mister Kelly’s, on Rush and The London House (a jazz haven) on Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue. We were served dinner each night at Mr. Kelly’s, walked down to Delaware, did two shows and then hopped a cab for dessert, a drink and jazz at The London House. What a life! The money was so-so, but the life-style divine and the people were a wonder to watch. These were the times these men relished and recalled, and it was like a trip down memory lane.
The ending is not what you might want or even hope for, but is fitting based on the action of its creator, Rychlewski and the artistic approach that Shavzin has taken in the telling of this beautiful story. This is a story about accepting responsibility, showing true friendship and being honorable with “friends” Grant Sabin’s set is divine and reminds me of many a neighborhood tavern on a corner. Brenda Winstead’s costumes are fitting for the characters. Christopher Neville has assemble a great array of props and the lighting (Benjamin L. White) and sound (Barry Bennet) along with the choreography (Alicia Ciuffini) are the finishing touches on the technical portion of the show along with the fight direction of Sam Hubbard. I am very glad that this production is done with no intermission. Breaking the spell for ten minutes anywhere would tear away the very fabric of the grace they have created. The history may not be precise, but it is a masterful story. Thanks to Dashnight Productions for bringing this story to Chicago audiences.
“Chops” will continue at Theater Wit located at 1229 West Belmont Avenue thru August 14th with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets are $35 ($25 for seniors and students) and can be purchased by calling 773-975-8150 or online at www.theaterwit.org. OPEN SEATING
To see what others are saying ( I think there will be Jeff nominations for this one) visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Chops”.
NOTE: Chops is sort of an ability or talent. In jazz terms it is the abilty to play- in life, that can also be true!