Jazz trumpeter Chet Baker’s turbulent life and wretched death have provided rich material for any number of plays and movies. James O’Reilly is the latest to tackle the life of the enigmatic and troubled artist, who died in 1988 at age 58 after a fall (jump?) from an Amsterdam hotel window while under the influence of heroin and cocaine.
In “Time After Time: The Chet Baker Project,” O’Reilly approaches his subject sideways. The playwright himself plays Ted, a writer who is anxious to solve the nagging contradiction between Baker’s brutal and destructive lifestyle and the spirit of romanticism that infuses his music.
The resulting play is uneven. We drop in on Baker during several key chapters of his life — working with pianist Russ Freeman; his association with photographer William Claxton; meeting his girlfriends and wives-to-be. But we rarely glimpse the essence of the man.
Savvy director Jim Millan has recruited Toronto-based jazz trumpeter Danny DePoe to play Baker, and the benefits are immediately apparent. His playing is suitably moody and persuasive (although his singing is a little less so) and he has a James Dean-ish sex appeal, filling out a white T-shirt to advantage.
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Martin Julien and Philippa Domville have a chance to show their range in a variety of colorful roles, and the onstage band of Kevin Dempsey (drums), Duncan Hopkins (bass) and Logan Medland (piano) keep things swinging along. Steve Lucas contributes an inventive set (a double bed juts out from a point halfway up a wall) and some funky lights while Angela Thomas’ costumes are both accurate and interesting.
Already attracting sellout audiences, “Time After Time” is easy on the eye and the ear. Only the mind is left slightly unsatisfied by the lack of structure and by the meanderings of a fragmented story that reaches no conclusions.