Life Lesson Laughter: Former 'Seinfeld' writer pens stage stand-up story about Parkinson's

2013-01-15T00:00:00Z 2013-01-16T14:19:49Z Life Lesson Laughter: Former 'Seinfeld' writer pens stage stand-up story about Parkinson'sBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Marc Jaffe is a television writer used to creating storylines for a wide audience.

In addition to the other series he's written for, his mind was one of the brilliant brains behind the first season of "Seinfeld."

So when he decided to team-up with Wendy Kaplan, president of MadKap Productions, and Emmy nominated playwright Eric Coblewill, to present the Chicago stage premiere of "Side Effects May Include," he was confident audiences would connect with the theme.

Described as "a daringly funny, poignant and provocative one-man show about early onset Parkinson's disease," Jaffe says anyone who has ever faced any illness or knows of someone who has struggled with health concerns feel connected with the humor and premise.

"There are many funny moments, and yet audiences still leave the theater thinking and talking about the story," said Jaffe, who flew to Chicago this weekend to attend Friday's opening night with his wife, Karen, who inspired the show.

"Side Effects May Include" began previews Jan. 4 and runs until Feb. 10 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 North Lincoln Ave. in Chicago.

Jaffe, who lives in Cleveland with his family, tested out an earlier version of the play last year in Ohio. He said the premise is intended to explore the idea that sometimes, "it's not the disease that changes us, but the side effects."

The play is 95-minutes with one intermission and centers around a character named Phil Rosen, played by Andrew J. Pond,  a middle-aged stand-up comedian, living what Jaffe defines as "a reasonably happily married life." His only complaint is his wife Maggie's waning sex drive, which provides ample fodder for his stand-up act.

But when she is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, their life takes an unexpected turn, with the stories based on Jaffe's own bittersweet experience dealing with wife Karen's Parkinson's diagnosis.

Jaffe describes the tale as the story of a couple's love and devotion in the midst of "coping with the heartache of an escalating mountain of pills, dangerous (yet faithful) liaisons, marital secrets revealed, questions of manhood and womanhood, age and desire."

MadKap Productions is donating 10 percent of the proceeds from "Side Effects May Include..." to Shaking with Laughter, an organization that was set up by Marc and Karen Jaffe in support of the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

"There's so much people don't know about Parkinson's," Jaffe said.

"And while this a production intended for age 18 and older, this stage story is also a chance to both entertain and educate. My wife Karen is a doctor, and even she wasn't aware the early symptoms she was experiencing were signs of Parkinson's."

According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation: "Marc Jaffe has approached the difficult topic and his family's private challenges with humor and a sense of optimism. And those are two attributes that all of us at the Michael J. Fox Foundation particularly prize."

Parkinson's disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder with symptoms that can progress from mild tremors to complete physical incapacitation. According to Jaffe, in the United States in 2013, 60,000 new cases will be diagnosed.

"While the average age of onset is 60, an estimated five to 10 percent of people with Parkinson's experience onset at age 40 or younger," Jaffe said.

"It's not just 'an old person's disease,' like so many people think."

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