Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see Bill's review of Double Indemnity
La Jolla Playhouse is producing a stage version of Sideways, adapted from the original novel by Rex Pickett. Former Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff helms the production in between commitments to reviving The Who's Tommy in Stratford, Ontario, and Fetch Clay, Make Man, opening August 23 at the New York Theatre Workshop.
Given Mr. McAnuff's other commitments, it's surprising that Sideways works as well as it does. Fortunately, the Playhouse has equipped him with a first-rate design team (Robert Brill, Scenic Designer; Paul Tazewell, Costume Designer; Michael Walton, Lighting Designer; Cricket S. Myers, Sound Designer; Sean Nieuwenhuis, Video and Projection Designer; Michael Roth, Composer; and Lisa Shriver, Choreographer). And, Mr. McAnuff has up his sleeve a bag of tricks that help him to put a sheen on everything he does and endears his work to Playhouse audiences.
No, the problem is the movie.
The film version of Sideways was written by Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne and, like Pickett's stage adaptation, it was based on his novel. But the two versions go in somewhat different directions, even if the basic idea is the same.
Which is: two male friends head for the Santa Barbara County wine country for a bachelor week prior to Jack's (Sean Allen Krill) impending marriage. Both Jack and his friend Miles (Patrick Breen) are talented losers. Jack's had something of an acting career in films and television, though his acting career seems to be drying up. He's made money, but he's never let go of his immature tendencies toward skirt-chasing. Miles appears to be a talented writer, but his work keeps getting rejected. He has expensive tastes, though, particularly when it comes to wine.
The film was nominated for several Academy Awards and won for a screenplay that made the protagonists playful and their antics at the level of pranks. It was also embraced by audiences as charming and drove wine tastes toward pinot noir and away from merlot (merlot, however, is in the process of recovering). So, audiences might tolerate some variations in the stage version, especially if they can be open-minded about those differences, but they'll still compare it to the film.
The version on display in La Jolla may have richer characters than the film, but the male leads are also a fair more mean-spiritedand definitely more alcoholic. The situations are also harder-edged and less playful. If your idea of a good time is watching two guys get drunk and abuse everyone with whom they come into contact, well, then, this play is for you. If you don't find alcoholism funny, though, you might find yourself somewhat annoyed by the storyline.
I guess you can tell that I was on the side of "somewhat annoyed."
The situations are still pretty funny, and Mr. Pickett knows how to write a joke. But, the lessons learned seemed hollow at play's end.
None of my concerns apply to the hardworking cast or, for that matter, to Mr. McAnuff's direction, which, despite its hardened paste-wax finish, features a lot of detailed delights.
Is it merlot or pinot, though? You decide.
La Jolla Playhouse presents Sideways, by Rex Pickett, through September 1 at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre in the theatre district of the University of California, San Diego, campus. Tickets ($64 - $82) are available by calling the box office at (858) 550-1010 or by visiting www.lajollaplayhouse.org.
Directed by Des McAnuff, with Robert Brill, Scenic Designer; Paul Tazewell, Costume Designer; Michael Walton, Lighting Designer; Cricket S. Myers, Sound Designer; Sean Nieuwenhuis, Video and Projection Designer; Michael Roth, Composer; and Lisa Shriver, Choreographer.
The cast includes Nadia Bowers (Maya), Patrick Breen (Miles), Zöe Chou (Terra), Sean Allan Krill (Jack), Cynthia Mace (Phyllis). Jeff Marlow (Roman/Jared), Allison Spratt Pearce (Victoria). Jorge Rodriguez (Charlie), Mike Sears (Chris), and UC San Diego M.F.A. graduate students Vi Flaten (Evelyn/Babs), Tom Patterson (Brad), and Jasmine St. Clair (Waitress).