Side Effects May Include...
A comedy about sex, drugs and Parkinson's Disease is an accurate description of Marc Jaffe and Eric Coble's play "Side Effects May Include," but somehow it also isn't. The one-man show, starring an able Andrew J. Pond, is the story of Jaffe's own experiences when his wife is diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's Disease.
The only character, Phil Rosen, a middle-aged stand-up comedian, father and husband, splices his comedy routine with a monolog about his life and experiences with his wife Maggie's diagnosis. The set is a 1/4 comedy club and 3/4 bedroom with a bed surrounded by pill bottles. And that is the premise: everything in life has side effects, especially the drugs that Maggie must take to make her life as a wife, mother, and OB/GYN work. The whole family deals with the side effects of these drugs that are many times worse than the effects of the actual disease.
Jaffe is a former Seinfeld writer and that influence is felt strongly. As Jerry Seinfeld, stand-up comedian, used his routine in the TV show, so does Phil. He demonstrates how hard it is to tell jokes about life when your life is falling apart, slowly, around the disease of your wife. You can't tell jokes about a drug to treat tremors that no one who isn't dealing with this specific disease knows about, but that is what your life is currently revolving around, so it feels like there is nothing else to talk about.
And though it is a one-man show, Pond's acting out of conversations Phil has with his daughter, his wife and an old timer at the comedy club, among others, makes it feel like there is more than one character. He subtly takes on the posture and mannerisms of the people in Phil's life and then slips back into the schleppy, middle-aged goofy Phil. Pond's abilities certainly make the play feel full of people.
Phil takes the audience through the beginning of his and Maggie's relationship, along the path of their lives, how it used to be, their only child and how parenthood changed the couple, through the diagnosis and into Life After the Diagnosis, which is what the family will deal with from then on.
There is a touching, yet disturbing story of how their daughter found out that Maggie was sick (she read it in a journal Maggie kept) and how hard they tried to keep the secret from everyone in their lives. Because everything changes once that is out.
Ultimately the side effect of one of the medications Maggie is taking is increased libido, something Phil has been complaining about for his entire 20-year marriage. Phil, whose aversion to taking pills borders on the phobic, has to start taking pills himself to keep up with his insatiable wife -- and there is the rub.
But the main issue with "Side Effects May Include" is not that the humor or subject is dark, it is rather that it isn't dark enough. The humor is broad, like an email with an animated GIF that your middle-aged aunt might send you about how men want sex and women aren't interested after a 10-year marriage. Or how straight, middle-aged Jewish men don't like to talk about their feelings or their butts.
There is nothing cutting or incisive in this play, rather gentle, comfortable jokes about sex lube and flatulence (not in the same joke, that would be too edgy). It is all yuck yucks and groaners with a few, poignant moments thrown in for diversity.
Regardless of the broad sweep of the humor, the play deals with a difficult subject with grace, honesty and humor. Ten percent of the proceeds from each show will go to Shaking With Laughter, the foundation they started in support of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, a very worthy cause.
"Side Effects May Include" runs through Feb. 10 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 North Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. For info or tickets, call 773-404-7336 or visit greenhousetheater.org.