If you’d like a peek into old school Chicago, don’t miss CHOPS running at Theater Wit (1229 W. Belmont Ave.) through August 14. The world premiere play is set in 1984 and follows three semi-crooked old friends swapping stories about the glory days of Rush Street jazz clubs in the 50’s and 60’s.
Dive bar patrons will feel immediately at home on the set, which depicts Vince’s tavern on Chicago’s northwest side. It features the wood paneling and drooping Cubs pennant of your neighborhood tap, but the juke box bursting with midcentury jazz is the real draw.
Vince (Larry Neumann Jr.) is closing up on a Sunday night when his old pal Walt (Randy Steinmeyer) walks in with a hot young thing on his arm. Walt is fresh off some jail time, but thinks his luck might be changing as he shares a love of classic jazz over a couple two tree Old Fashioneds with the mysterious beauty Kaki (Claire Cooney). Their riffing is interrupted by the arrival of Philly (Danny Sullivan), a smooth talking buddy from the old days just back from L.A.
Kaki is surprisingly able to keep up as the guys reminisce about their glory days at Chicago’s jazz epicenter on Rush Street. Even those of us who weren’t around back when the Gaslight Club was swinging and Coltrane and Ella played Mr. Kelly’s will appreciate the local references and lively look at Chicago history.
No one on stage is checking their cell phone. Back in 1984 the characters entertain each other with bar banter, boogieing, and even a storytelling competition. These guys are small time cons that talk a big game. Vince is running a tight ship and doesn’t want any mob trafficking in his tavern like the bars around the corner, but Philly has some new connections from the coast and a prospect that’s too good to be true. Against of a backdrop of jazz music that can cut and blow, Walt wants to prove to his buddies and the sexy jazz aficionado that he’s still got the chops.
Steinmeyer, Sullivan, and Neumann Jr. are veteran Chicago actors who evoke the bravado and tension of old friendships while the worthy Cooney deftly maneuvers her way through the characters’ middle-aged egos. When the other shoe finally drops, it’s with a 70’s New Hollywood plot twist.
CHOPS has been a labor of love for playwright Michael Rychlewski who began penning the story 20 years ago. The Schurz High School English teacher based the play on his own experiences bartending among aging jazz freaks in his twenties. CHOPS is directed by Richard Shavzin and produced by Dashnight Productions.
This article originally appeared on Chicagoist.
1229 W Belmont Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657