THE PERFECT PINOT PAIRING
Pinot Noir is presently one of the most popular wine varietals in California thanks to Sideways. First published as a novel by Rex Pickett in 2004 before being made into a feature film starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh, Sideways is now a play making its stage debut in the author’s own Los Angeles. Sideways The Play, unlike the movie, has been adapted by Pickett himself.
Sideways – whether the novel, movie or play – follows the adventures of Miles and Jack as they travel through the Santa Barbara County wine country (Buellton, Lompoc and Los Olivos). Their goal isn’t just to patronize all of the region’s wine tasting rooms, but to purchase wine for Jack’s wedding in Paso Robles at the end of the week. Miles, a down-on-his-luck novelist, is the wine guru, teaching Jack how to swirl, sniff, sip and spit his wine. Jack, the handsome movie actor and director, however, has other plans. Chiefly, he wants to get laid before settling down to a life of monogamy. Secondly, Jack wants to make sure that Miles, who still hasn’t gotten over his ex-wife, also “busts his nut.” Jack soon sets his own sights on Terra, a sexually-voracious tasting room manager. For Miles, he picks Maya, a recently-divorced waitress that Miles is already on friendly terms with from previous visits. The ensuing adventures are lurid, hilarious and heart-warming.
Pickett’s stage adapation of Sideways presents a truncated version of the novel that shows to full effect his talent for dialogue. Skipping the initial LA wine tasting event and night at Miles’ mom’s house in Santa Barbara, Sideways The Play begins with Miles and Jack sampling the Santa Ynez Valley’s finest Pinots. Gone too is Jack’s dalliance with a married waitress and Miles’ valiant morning rescue of Jack’s wallet, an episode in the movie that presented filmgoers with far more naked flesh than they wished to see. Their nighttime boar hunting episode, however, is retained in the stage version, though the drunken hunter is not pressed into service as a chauffeur for the festival at Fess Parker Winery. What is brought into sharper focus in Pickett’s play is the bond of friendship between Miles and Jack and their amorous entanglements with Maya and Terra. Much of the novel’s original dialogue is also retained, but considerably fleshed out.
The cast of Sideways The Play is refreshingly younger and better-looking than the more middle-aged actors of the film version. A constant temptation for both John Colella and Jonathan Bray, who play Miles and Jack, is to mimic the speech mannerisms of Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church – a temptation to which they occasionally succumb, whether intentional or not. Colella may not have Giamatti’s presence, but he is more likeable, less pathetic and less prone to flights of self-pity. Bray is also more likeable than Haden Church, perhaps because he seems more intelligent and less of a jock. Both of their performances capture the bravura and intensity of Pickett’s memorable characters, and their comic timing couldn’t be better. Julia McIlvaine and Cloe Kromwell light up the stage as Maya and Terra, ensnaring not only Miles and Jack, but the audience also.
In Director Amelia Mulkey’s capable hands, Sideways the Play almost manages to feel like it was originally conceived as a stage play rather than a novel. Together with Designer C. J. Strawn and an amusing cast of minor characters, Mulkey makes frequent set changes into an art-form of its own. It is an amazingly versatile stage set, becoming a tasting room one minute, a hotel room the next, and even a wilderness where a redneck boar hunter, Brad (Hamilton Matthews), can fire his rifle at Miles and Jack.
As an added bonus, each performance of Sideways The Play includes a complimentary wine tasting. Sadly, the tastings do not include any of the wines previously or subsequently made famous by Sideways‘ earlier manifestations. And while the tastings may not rival the perfect Pinot pairing enjoyed by Miles – Pinot and cunnilingus – each one well complements Pickett’s oenophilic odyssey. The wine relaxes body and mind for laugh-out-loud comedy, preparing the way for Miles’ infectious and poetic praise of that most fickle and fragile of wine varietals, Pinot Noir, with which audiences will no doubt fall in love, too.
photos by Agnes Magyari
Sideways The Play
Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on July 22 EXTENDED to October 28, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.ruskingrouptheatre.com