Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
Chromolume Theatre at the Attic Theatre
Through Sept. 21
The Nation’s film critic Stuart Klawans wrote that “Charlie Parker developed an obsessive work ethic on the alto saxophone, and a corresponding lack of discipline in every other aspect of his life.”
Though simplistic, and as accurate as Klawans’s stark dichotomy may be, after viewing Willard Manus’s 70-minute play Bird Lives, you’d think that Parker, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, was shallow and one-dimensional.
Montae Russell does a fine job channeling Parker (although his miming on the saxophone to a splendid soundtrack does little to import authenticity). Part of the problem here is the awkward shifts in Manus’s jittery, non-linear script that careens between the East Coast and the West.
Some of the show is really engaging, such as when we learn how Parker got his nickname “Bird,” or how he was presented with a copy of Omar Khayyam’s poetry by a star-struck Frenchwoman. Less interesting and more prevalent are scenes of Parker’s trips to his doctor’s office in the throes of addiction to heroin, or his clashes with law enforcement, or his tiffs with his manager. The ascendant perception here is of a man whose personal demons and drug addiction simply got the best of him, rather than an ingenious composer, jazz innovator and performer. Here, Parker’s personal woes trump his enormous musical gifts and his contributions to jazz, and that seems less than paradoxical, and less-than-charitable. Tommy Hicks directs.
Chromolume Theatre at the Attic, 5429 W. Washington Blvd.; LA; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 pm.; through Sept. 21. (323)-205-1617, crtheatre.com