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THEATER REVIEW: “Sideways” at La Jolla Playhouse

Film fans will remember the setup if not the details of the quirky 2004 road trip film “Sideways,” nominated for five Oscars and winner of one (for adapted screenplay).

In that film, oenophile Miles takes his soon-to-be-married friend Jack on a week-long stag wine binge in the vineyards of the central California coast. As they stagger from one tasting room to another, they meet women, discuss life and yes, get into trouble.

Now Rex Pickett, San Diego-raised UCSD graduate and author of the source material for that film, has rewritten his novel as a play, and it’s on the boards through Aug. 25 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre.

Miles (Patrick Breen), a middle-school English teacher and failed novelist, is a bit of a depressed wine snob ready with an easy snap judgment on each wine. Jack (Sean Allan Krill) is a randy B-list actor/director who doesn’t care what he drinks but says whatever comes into his apparently empty head – mostly about women and often in blue and excessively vulgar terms – and isn’t about to let a little thing like impending marriage keep him from a roll in the sack, or more if he can get it.

It’s a bit of a challenge to keep a show about these two engaging – at least for women, because the show isn’t really about anything except boys drinking too much and behaving badly (or, in Miles’ case, boringly). Listening to crude anatomical comments about women quickly loses its humor potential, and how much can you say about wine and complain about your unpublished book without the yawn factor setting in?

On the other hand, much of Pickett’s dialogue (excluding the above topics) sparkles with wit or at least humor, making the grungier parts all the more annoying.

Director Des McAnuff, the Playhouse’s director emeritus, has a great cast and a terrific tech team, so the show at least has some visual interest and convincing acting going for it.

Breen and Krill are excellent as the oenophilic and ethical odd couple, whose progress on this road trip is slow (the show runs over two hours) and more than a little redundant. But they are lucky to have two terrific women in Nadia Bowers and Zöe Chao, successive tasting room managers with whom they hook up, at least temporarily. Bowers plays Maya, a gorgeous blonde newly divorced, with whom Miles may form a more than casual bond. Chao is Terra, a fiery brunette who makes the mistake of falling for Jack (who doesn’t bother to mention what he’s doing after this trip).

When the truth comes out in the second act, there’s a lot of noise followed by a tacked-on piece of plotting involving Brad (Tom Patterson), who says he’s a
“wild boar depradator” (no, it’s not a word), and for no apparent reason takes the guys into the woods to hunt wild boar.

It all sort of works out in the end, but like the merlot Miles detests, the flavor of the piece is pretty much ruined by the abominable behavior, blue language and nonsensical second-act plotting. Even fine acting and excellent tech can’t save this piece. It needs serious rewriting.

The details

“Sideways” plays through Aug. 25 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, on the UCSD campus.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (858) 550-1010 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.