Charlene Baldridge | Downtown News
Designed to tickle oenophiles and the overly romantic, Rex Pickett’s “Sideways” is now a play. Based on his own wildly popular 2004 novel and Oscar-winning film and directed by former Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff, the piece had its critical opening July 21 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre and continues in an extended run through Sept 1. Let’s say it’s light and appealing summer entertainment with a fruity appeal and a bitter aftertaste.
The bitter aftertaste is due to the cavalier treatment a wine-country beauty named Terra (lovely, likeable Zoë Chao) receives from Jack (tall, appealingly awkward Sean Alan Krill) in a somewhat mutual seduction – like the old saw, he was only poking fun but she took it seriously.
The freewheeling Jack, a film director who knows nothing of wine and little of women, is having a last fling in California wine country prior to settling down as a married man. One wonders if such men ever settle down even after submitting to the nuptial ceremony.
Jack’s friend, a depressed novelist named Miles (Patrick Breen), is the protagonist, oenophile and tour guide. Miles becomes involved with Maya (Nadia Bowers) in a relationship that may go the distance, or at least the novelist/playwright leaves us with that hope in the play.
The trip through Santa Ynez Valley vines, loins, restaurants and wineries is memory lane for some, and though a working knowledge of grape varieties and their qualities is helpful, it is not necessary. The tale is largely autobiographical in nature, based on a similar trip involving Pickett (a graduate of UCSD) and a friend. Pickett has self-published a sequel titled “Vertical,” which depicts another Miles and Jack road trip.
Those who loved the dark comedy of the film may find the play’s male characters less likeable and therefore less forgivable than the movie’s. One of the play’s best scenes involves a wacky, self-appointed lawman named Brad (Tom Patterson) who instead of killing local varmints turns his shotgun on Miles and Jack.
Overall, the play’s emphasis on comedy brings it a brittleness and lack of profundity when it comes to human insight into depression’s despair and palpable pain. It’s lightness as opposed to the terror of darkness. Terra’s rejection and pain are given short shrift as well. Perhaps after Jack marries and Miles sells his book, she and Maya will start the winery of which they dream.
The Playhouse production is enhanced with original music by Michael Roth, performed by guitarist Peter Sprague and recorded at Encinitas’ Spragueland Studios. Robert Brill’s scenic design lends itself well to quick scene changes. Paul Tazewell is costume designer, Michael Walton the lighting designer, Cricket S. Myers the sound designer, and Sean Nieuwenhuis the video and projection designer. The choreographer is Lisa Shriver and fight director is Steve Rankin. lajollaplayhouse.org or 858-550-1010.
Charlene Baldridge moved to San Diego from the Chicago area in 1962. She’s been writing about the arts since 1979, and has had her features, critiques, surveys and interviews included in various publications ever since. Her book San Diego, Jewel of the California Coast (Northland Publishing) is currently available in bookstores. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.