‘Side Man’ takes front stage at Malibu Stage Co.

From left: Jack Conley, Todd Truly and John Mariano play the horns in "Side Man," now playing at the Malibu Stage Co.

The play tells the story of the decline of a family along with the jazz age.

Heidi Manteuffel/Special to The Malibu Times

The Tony award-winning play “Side Man,” written by Warren Leight and directed by Christopher Hart, opened Friday night at the Malibu Stage Company.

“Side Man” is an intriguing combination of nostalgia and dysfunction as it portrays the decline of jazz music alongside the destruction of one extraordinary jazz performer’s family.

The play begins in 1985 with Clifford, son of jazz trumpeter Gene, on the day he is reunited with his mother and father. Through the narration of Clifford, the scene flashes back to 1953 to explain how the jazz world and his family deteriorated to their present neglected shape.

Gene meets Clifford’s mother, Terry, when he happens to hear her playing the flute in a basement of a New York City apartment. Terry quickly becomes interested in Gene, and with Terry’s insistence, they start living together. Through time, Terry finds she’s expecting and looks to the currently successful Gene to make a decision.

To remedy Terry’s concern, Gene promises Terry that he will marry her but on their wedding night, Gene chooses to play jazz over being with his wife.

After the appearance of Elvis on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (the appearance that forever changed the world of jazz music), the story flashes years later to Gene who’s having great trouble finding work. But unlike fellow musicians who have decided to seek more secure jobs to support their families, Gene refuses to get out of the business. As seen, Gene’s unobservant personality and Terry’s paranoia become more prevalent through the years and feed off each other to bring about the destruction of Terry’s sanity as well as the breakdown of their family unit.

“Side Man” is a well-written play, and was an overall excellent performance. The characters were believable in their abnormal reactions to everyday situations.

The actors’ performances were overall strong. One performance that calls for special mention is Ellen Greene’s portrayal of the crazy Terry, which demands both sympathy for the character and respect. The performance of Clifford by David Barry Gray was not nearly as compelling as the others, but this is due perhaps more to the conception of the character than the actor himself.

Clifford seemed to be created in the reoccurring vein of placing a normal child into a dysfunctional family, thus making him the straight man. This role evokes little besides pity for him being the victim of unfortunate circumstances, and could have been better utilized with the otherwise strong storyline.

The creation of the set allowed for fluid changes between location and time. Furniture and props appeared appropriate to date and fit with the overall feel to the play. The music highly accentuated the theme of the play and helped Leight successfully fight his case for the importance of jazz music in popular culture.

“Side Man” runs June 4 to July 18 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25.