La Jolla, CA—About ten or so years ago I was on holiday in Australia, Perth to be exact. My friends and I had about a day and half to spend there and aside from visiting a Koala reserve where we held Koala’s (they stink of eucalyptus) and Kangaroos stampeding on cue, we (they) wanted to take the popular Swan River Boat Cruise to the upper regions to sample the fruits of Western Australia’s oldest wine region- the Swan Valley.
That was the first the last and the only time I have ever visited a winery. While there we went into the cellars listened to lectures and oohed and ahhd about all the other byproducts for sale in the gift shop. We split a case of their well-known Champaign (whatever that was) and I used my share as gifts. I bought a book and a few trinkets as others swooned over the wines selections.
The experience, with the exception of the beautiful scenery, really nice folks we met up with was rather non-eventful trip, for me at least. Truthfully, I don’t know the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blank, Merlot, California or other wise, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Wine or any other spirit has never been high on my must have sip, slurp or drink list.
That said, I was really impressed by Miles (Patrick Breen) knowledge of his wines, especially when he could tell whether or not it was good by just sniffing, rolling it around on the tongue and then spitting it out in a ‘spit bucket’. (Crude joke reference about sniffing comes later). Miles is one of the two characters in the play “Sideways” now making its debut at the La Jolla Playhouse through Aug. 25th.
UCSD graduate Rex Pickett wrote the novel “Sideways” that was the basis of an earlier screenplay that he wrote, but not necessarily the same screenplay written by Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne that was made into the movie “Sideways”. Pickett’s play adaptation is similar in plot line to the movie, but the language in the play is raw, foul, down and dirty and oft times offensive.
Of the two or three movies I saw in 2004, “Sideways” happened to be one. I thought it was cute but not necessarily an Academy Award winner for adaptation of a screenplay. It was also nominated in five other categories.
Remember that old TV show, “On The Road With …”? Well Miles (Patrick Breen) and Jack (Sean Allan Krill) are two guys that hit the road for one last fling just before Jack ties the knot. Miles is a down and out on his luck writer, an English teacher and a wiz with words. He is also a wine snob/ aficionado/expert, borderline alcoholic and a bore.
When we catch up with Miles, just before he gets Jack, he is waiting to hear if his latest work is going to be picked up by any publishing house. It’s been out there for two years and submitted more times that he cares to admit. The prospects of it being accepted or not hangs over him like a yoke around his neck literally, for the better time of his week from Santa Monica to Santa Ynez and Paso Rubles.
Miles takes off with Jack in the hopes some male bonding and tad bit of wine education. It would also be one last fling for the two of them together especially for Jack. He will be tying the knot with Babs (Vi Flaten) as soon as this road trip is over.
Jack was once in a popular TV series and is now is doing voiceovers. He’s smart enough to find a place for himself in Babs’ wealthy family but not smart enough to know how to treat women. If you follow his advise, he will inform you chapter and verse in the art of panty raiding.
Miles planned to stop at all the tasting wineries, show off his knowledge of California Wines and more or less, chill. But rather than a good relaxing, male bonding thing along with a wine tutorial, Jack gives Miles a few of his own lessons on how to be a first class jerk.
Jack plays women like toys. When his libido is sated he tosses them away. He is pretty much a self-centered heel that can’t seem to keep his ‘little man’ in his pants long enough to have a conversation before getting down and dirty.
Miles, on the other hand, is recently (2 years) divorced and is still smarting from that little fiasco and is even less interested in finding/dating women than Jack is in wine. But that doesn’t stop Jack from hitting on the first two beautiful women he runs into. Nadia Bowers is Maya, a blond beauty recently divorced (we later learn) waitress and wine lover that Miles has run into over the course of his trips through the wine country; Jack saves her for Miles.
Her friend Terra (Zoe Chao), bartender/tasting room manager is a beautiful little spitfire that Jack immediately wants to bed. The four wine and dine together when Jack isn’t having sex with Terra. She falls for him in a big way as his soon to be wife prepares for the wedding back home wondering why Jack won’t return her phone calls.
Both Terra and Maya are gorgeous and pretty much true to form. Bowers is soft, sweet, appealing and funny especially when she talks about her rich, now ex husband and how she split the property when she left him. Miles would do well, if he wasn’t so neurotic, to keep her in his sights.
Chao, UC San Diego Alum. is dynamite. As Terra, She’s smart and vulnerable, falling for this con guy who professes to be in love with her while knowing that it’s all a fantasy. She gives one outstanding knock down performance when she finds out all the lies he told her during their ‘hot’ sex.
Director Des McAnuff has assembled a more than competent cast for this over the top male road trip with benefits. Heel that his character is, Sean Allan Krill’s Jack is a charmer. He is a natural; funny and convincing almost to the point of whining to get his own way. Some of his lines are laugh out loud funny.
His rat, tat, tat one liners bounce off Patrick Breen’s Miles like shots from an automatic revolver. Miles kvetches and sulks but goes along with his buddy anyway. It’s an almost symbiotic relationship as the two are perfectly suited for one another; kind of like Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple”.
What makes the show appealing is not so much the plot (it’s a one trick pony) but the staging, the sets, (Robert Brill), the lighting (Michael Walton), the sound (Cricket S. Myers) with Michael Roth’s original music; beautiful scenic projections (Sean Nieuwenhauis) and contemporary outfits (Paul Tazewell) are all top notch.
Along with the great ensemble work of about eight or nine interchangeable characters, who roll in with the changing sets, and the absolutely true to life acting of Krill and Breen (after they settled in), Bowers and Chao and of course McAnuff’s expertise direction, (Broadway anyone?) “Sideways” appeared to be an audience pleaser on opening night. Why not? The wine was flowing like a giant spigot opened up.
The play as it is, is too long-running about two and a half hours. The script can definitely be shortened especially the side trip the two men take when they are lured into a wild boar hunting expedition one night. (It’s too involved to explain and not relevant to the story). The hot tub scene however, is a keeper.
If the f-bomb, crude language (sounds more like high school bathroom talk then men going through a mid life crisis) and being in the company of two losers for two plus hours doesn’t bother you, “Sideways” should be your glass of —-. (you fill in the blank)
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept. 1st
Organization: La Jolla Playhouse
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037
Venue: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre