Andrew J. Pond | Performer of the week
An incurable, debilitating illness may not seem like much of a laughing matter, but Marc Jaffe and Eric Coble’s solo show Side Effects May Include is a hilarious look at how a stand-up comedian deals with his wife’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Andrew J. Pond stars as Phil, as well as major figures in the comedian’s life, dealing with his wife’s increased sex drive (a side effect of her medication), a hormonal teenage daughter, and his own worries about what his wife’s diagnosis means for his future. Pond grew up in West Allis, Wisconsin, a small town about 20 minutes outside of Milwaukee, and got his first introduction to performance when he began playing the cello in fifth grade. He became interested in theater in high school, trading in music for acting, but when he enrolled at University of Wisconsin-Madison, financial matters prevented him from majoring in theater (he graduated with a degree in philosophy). After graduating, he had an internship at Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina before attending the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theater Training in Florida, then moved to Chicago for the theater opportunities and, of all reasons, the weather. Pond speaks to us about the pressures of doing a solo show, balancing the comedic and dramatic elements of the script, and what went into creating the script’s different characters.
What was your first reaction when you read Marc and Eric’s script?
My first reaction was, and I said this to Wendy [Kaplan, producer] because I found out about it while I was doing another MadKap Productions show at the Greenhouse, Clutter—she came and gave me the script and said, “I’ve been asked to do this, I think you’d be really good.” So I read it and I turned to her and I go, “Yes please, I would really, really like to do this,” because I thought the script was a great challenge from an acting point of view, but it was also a wonderful story and I thought it was very, very well-written. So it was one of those things where I was just like, “Yes I would very much love to do this please, let’s make this happen.”
Have you ever done a solo show before?
Not since I did a very short one-act, single-man show down at the Burt Reynolds Institute in Florida as part of our late-night, do-what-you-want kind of thing. And I’d done a very short one, probably only about half an hour long, so no, this is really my first real stab at doing a full-length, one-man show.
What are some of the challenges and pressures of doing a one-man show?
There’s never any time off on-stage. There’s never really a break. You know, with a regular play, there are times where the other characters take over and either you leave the stage or you’re not the focus of the scene, and so the energy and the driving force of the show changes from character to character, whereas with this show, I am every character and so there’s never a letup as far as who’s driving this train. So that’s the main challenge, is that you can never let up, there can never be a point where anything lags even if it’s not an over-the-top kind of comedic moment, you still get to be pushing everything forward. So that—actually more so than the different characterizations—I found to be the biggest challenge, just to keep everything going at a really good clip and not let anything drag in the show.
Did you do any research into Parkinson’s and the different drugs that your character talks about in the show?
Well the nice thing is that the script is pretty well-detailed as far as that goes, and Marc came over from Cleveland during the rehearsal process, so we got to talk about that. That’s mostly where my research came from, was talking to him and reading the script because the show is really about him and the relationship and stuff like that and it’s almost second, really, about Parkinson’s. It’s more about the effect of disease on relationships, so I got enough so that I knew what I was talking about, but mostly it was talking to him about what was going on and how, what it was like to deal with it.
Were there any challenges in balancing the comedic and dramatic elements of the script?
I don’t know if I would say it was a challenge but it was certainly something that both Wayne [Mell], the director, and I wanted to keep ourselves focused on. The script is written well as far as the balance goes, and I’m naturally just in my own personality somebody who tries to find comedy in things that are tragic or depressing. So we just kept an eye on making sure that we didn’t go too far, do too much of the comedy stuff, and luckily there was great outlet for that with the standup routine moments and a lot of the stories. We really want to still bring out the seriousness and the real emotions that these people are going through.
And what went into creating the different characters in the script?
Honestly, a lot of it was pulling from either people that I had met or people I knew or starting with a certain type and then trying to make it more specific. I mean the rabbi character, Shell, I’d lived in South Florida for seven years, so Shell is a person that I saw every day at matinees in southern Florida. But the hardest character for me was Maggie, the wife. It’s always hard to play the opposite sex, and you don’t want to be too exaggerated, go too far into your falsetto. It was a challenge, but it was also one of the things that drew me to the piece: the physical acting challenge of playing so many different people believably.
But the thing that’s really cool about it is that not only are we donating ten percent of the ticket sales to Marc and Karen Jaffe’s foundation, Shaking with Laughter, but after this run’s over, we’re going to tour it around the country. We already have a number of places interested in taking it, and that’s another really exciting thing about this show, it’s going to have legs after we do this. We’re not just going to close it and move on.
MadKap Productions’ Side Effects May Include runs through February 10 at Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N Lincoln Ave, 773-404-7336). Read our review of Side Effects May Include.