Chops, a play, by writer, Mike Rychlewski, presented by the Wit Theater, 1229 w. Belmont, Chicago, was quite entertaining.
First, you are greeted by the playwright, himself, as you enter the theater, something I’ve never experienced before. Next, you are treated to an intimate stage decorated with a real jazz jukebox playing, Thelonious Monk compositions as the play opens. The scene is a bar on Rush Street, Chicago, circa 60-70’s... The bartender character can be seen behind the bar getting ready for customers. The four characters who make up the cast consist of 3 men and one woman, all great actors.
This “slice of life’ play centers around the three men whose friendship seems, on the surface, friendly and nostalgic s but ultimately is nothing more than a con game the extract money from the character, Walt, who appears to be financially well-to-do. The character, Philly, appears to have money but really a broke con, who with Kaki, who seduces Walt with her knowledge of jazz, is really Philly’s sister and part of the con to get money from Walt. The bartender, Vince, plays a paranoid club owner role, who wants no trouble in his bar that he pretends is doing good business.
Jazz music plays throughout , in the background, as Kaki and Walt and Vince take turns playing their favorite jukebox songs from the past, be-bop ,and swing ,hits from 40 and 50’s, that are classic jazz standards. Characters try to impress each other on their knowledge of jazz songs and players, but the real focus of the play is really about slick, phony, ‘Rush-Street types ‘from back in the day, who are ultimately up to no good.
There is good dancing to the songs by the players, funny jokes and banter and the view is similar to the feeling one gets looking at Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting of a diner of misfit and lonely characters; one feels a constant sense of doom.
As entertainment, the play works well, but, jazz music, is reduced to mostly mood and background music for the plot.
I think, it would have added more to the play, to have had a few ethnically diverse characters, maybe a jazz musician character to add some spice and more authenticity to the play. Chops, would work even better, I feel, if the emphasis on the play could have been more about jazz musicians during that time, and a more historic approach to lives of the musicians during that period.