In Warren Leight’s dramatic world, the stoned jazz musician is an infinitely preferable figure to the straight-laced overachiever. And, certainly, liberal theater audiences have enjoyed a play in which a whacked-out horn player is revealed a worthier figure than his buttoned-down corporate brother. But while the avowedly sentimental “Glimmer, Glimmer & Shine” offers a loyal defense of the vitality of the artistic temperament and some terrific anti-establishment one-liners, this surprisingly formulaic play creaks so loudly with narrative contrivance that one is constantly jolted away from the laudable sentiments therein.
After striking up a relationship when the Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati produced his “Sideman” last season, Tony-winner Leight is premiering this latest four-character work in Ohio at a terrific little theater with a long and impressive tradition of taking risks on new plays. Good for him.
With a mix of local and Gotham performers, director Lynn Meyers has certainly come through with a very serviceable and well-meaning production. But one of the main problems here is that the premiere incarnation (both script and direction) of “Glimmer, Glimmer & Shine” has its foot planted far too firmly in the limited realm of domestic realism. As a result, the splendid language and the lusty recorded soundtrack are completely overwhelmed by plotting that is simply not credible on a realistic level. Characters make overly predictable choices and changes.
Leight would be better advised to re-cast this potential potent work in a more fluid theatrical environment where his characters and scenes can float and riff more in the fashion of “Sideman.” The Glimmers are interesting people and deserve such treatment. As the play currently stands, they are all as trapped and limited as a jazz player stuck in a string quartet. The premise here is that the two twin Glimmer brothers have gone on very different paths after playing and partying down the jazz road in the 1950s and 1960s. Ex-junkie Martin (the likeable Dennis Parlato), is living in a hovel, befriending young musicians, downing scotch and behaving like an old musician is meant to behave. Daniel (an earnest but bemused Tony Campisi) has packed away his trumpet, started a business and had a family.
Things go awry when Daniel’s twentysometing daughter, Delia (played by Lindsey M. Marlin), meets a wedding player named Jordan Shine (Ean Sheehy), who happens to be the son of Eddie Shine, the third member of the once-happy band. It’s revealed that the up-market Delia was never told about the existence of her dad-in-denial’s renegade twin. There were numerous sexual complications in the middle-aged guys’ collective pasts, none of which the daughter knows anything about.
Thus with cute-but-penniless Jordan as her guide, Delia gets a lesson in the value of the eccentric artist and in the moral bankruptcy of her own life choices (which involve buying stuff, and marrying a rich guy much like herself).
Her father, meanwhile, is forced to deal with his rediscovered twin, who lands in a coma early in the first act and may die at any minute.
Try as one might, it’s hard to entirely buy that Daniel could have entirely kept his brother from his own daughter, especially since they were semi-famous musicians in the same band. And when he’s confronted with his kin, Daniel is so absurdly hard-nosed that the character starts feeling less like a human being and more like an authorial mouthpiece for what happens to a man who denies the music that’s in his soul.
There’s far too much heavy-handed family psychobabble on display in a play that would be better advised to explore the latent but potent themes of how old partying musicians handle their kids, wives, mistakes and dotage.
Leight feels generally on surer ground with his character of Martin, with whom the playwright’s sympathies clearly lie. In between his heart attacks, this whimsical fellow delivers worldly wisdom and funny gags to cut through the heavy-handed stuff. Jordan (very nicely played by Sheehy) is intended to be his representative in the next generation and, therefore, Delia’s only potential rescuer from the hell of materialism and creative repression. We’ve heard all this too many times.
Like everything here, Jordan is a genial, funny character whose capacity to move and entertain would be far greater if allowed to beat his own stylistic drum.