Monday, October 15, 2012

Sideways – The Play by Rex Pickett

By Joe Straw

“He treated her with his chaffing deference, roused, but very unsure of himself, afraid to death of being too forward, ashamed lest he might be thought backward, mad with desire yet restrained by instinctive regard for women from making any definite approach, feeling all the while that his attitude was ridiculous, and flushing deep with confusion.  She, however, became hard and daring as he became confused, it amused her to see him come on.” – D. H. Lawrence – The Rainbow

I loved the movie Sideways and the outstanding performances of Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church (Oscar nominated performance), Sandra Oh, and, in it, some of Virginia Madsen’s finest work on screen.

When the opportunity to see the world premier of Sideways – The Play by Rex Pickett and directed by Amelia Mulkey at The Ruskin Group Theatre Co. in Santa Monica came along, I jumped at it. Well, jump is not really an effective word.  After all, it’s been running for over twenty weeks. (Nice jumping.)

Judith Borne, the publicist, jarred my memory.   And it was a pleasant wake up call.  I grabbed my pad and marched to the theatre. But, when I got there, nobody knew who I was, or where I came from.  (It’s not the first time.) When this happens to me I can actually feel the blood moving to my face, the heat rising to the surface, and everything in my body just gets a little tense.  And I thought: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice glass of Pinot noir right now?

Lucky, Michael R. Myers, managing director of the Ruskin Group Theatre Company, came to my rescue.   

Other than having a few glasses from time to time, I know little about wines. In fact, picking out the right wine for the right occasion terrifies me. It is almost as horrific as beginnings of a new relationship.

And learning about a wine is like developing and experiencing the first intimate moments of a relationship. A great start is the pouring of the wine, by gently caressing the bottle, and ending the pour with a twist.  Next, take a cotton cloth and wipe the liquid from the mouth of the bottle.  Then, hold the stem of the wine glass with two fingers and a thumb.  Slowly, swirl the wine on a flat surface, like a slow dance, to stoke the wine’s innumerable aromas. Notice the color. And then, still caressing the stem, place the round glass bowl to your nose and inhale deeply to get the aromatic gratification.  After the sip, roll the wine around in your mouth and make sure it coats all surfaces so that you can pick up the textures and flavor sensations in the various parts of your mouth.  

Rex Pickett, the author of the novel and the play, is at the theatre every night pouring the wine, telling stories, and supporting the play. And what a better way to learn about wine than to go right to the source, ask him a few questions, and see his play, Sideways The Play.  

Miles (John Colella) is a down on his luck writer, recently divorced, depressed, and is not getting laid. (It is, by all measures, a very unhealthy combination.)

His best friend Jack (Jonathan Bray), a Mar Vista resident, is getting married in a week to a very rich woman, Babs (not seen on stage, but presence, heavily felt).  So Jack decides to finance a trip to San Ynez wine country with his best friend Miles. This is a slight ruse, as Jack wants a bachelor party, have his last fling, and get laid by someone other than his fiancée. (Fair enough.)

There’s a problem; Miles wants the trip to be about the wines, the Pinot noirs and nothing else.  But Jack isn’t having any part of his semi reclusive, soul-searching, deprecating venture. Jack wants to have fun.  

Chris (Paul Denk) greets them at the first winery and asks Miles about his book. They all seem to know Miles in this part of the country and they all know that his book is unpublished.

After Chris pours, Miles demonstrates the steps of wine tasting. Miles notes the Pinot noir has a kiwi flavor and is “pornographically good”. They like the wine and Jack buys a case for $450.00 but grumbles about the price.

When Chris runs off into the back, Miles and Jack empty the remains of the bottle, drink, and run out of the winery.

In their next stop, Miles takes Jack to The Hitching Post Bar. Charlie (Carl Kocis), the bartender, questions Miles about his unpublished book. (These guys seem to have fantastic memories. Or, maybe Miles, talks about himself a lot.)  Anyway Miles tells Charlie that Jack is getting married next week, much to Jacks dismay that wants all of this to be a best-kept secret.

“Pinot?” – Charlie

“Nice to be out.” – Miles

Maya (Julia McIlvaine) enters the room, doing her job, and immediately Jack thinks she’s a good fit for Miles. But Miles knows her.

“She’s married to a lit professor from Santa Barbara.” – Miles

Jack, sensing a separation.

“She’s probably divorced.” – Jack

Suddenly Maya sees Miles.  There is an immediate sensual connection and she tells him that she is reading Jung. She lets it known that she divorced her husband because he is a “fornicating deconstructionist”.

Maya, sensing an opening and magnetism, invites Miles out dancing.

“You told Maya we’re going back to the motel and crash?” – Jack

As they are driving back to the motel Jack, blood rising to his surface can’t believe what Miles has just done.  Suddenly Jack gets a call from Babs, hangs up, and calls her “f**cking b**ch”.  Jack has to break the bad news that Babs does not want Miles to be his best man nor does she want him at the wedding.

Jack says he will talk to Babs to get her to change her mind.  In the meantime Peter, the other best man, is waiting in the wings.  

At the Foxen Winery the next day Miles and Jack meet Tara (Cloe Kromwell). Jack is immediately smitten with Tara. And Miles is miles away thinking about his ex-wife, Vicky and wishing her well on her new marriage. It is a lonely conversation he carries on with himself.

Nevertheless Jack is on a mission of his own.  He tells Miles they have been invited out to dinner and asks Miles not to sabotage his mission and not to speak French.

“They’re beautiful.  Let them order.” – Jack

“No Merlot.” – Miles

“No Babs. Pace yourself.” – Jack

So the four of them are having dinner when Miles steps away and calls his ex-wife. She tells him not to come to the wedding sending Miles plane on a tailspin. Jack finds him and tells Miles that they are all going back to Tara’s house for wine and other things.

Jack and Tara find the back room and start making out like wild chinchillas. Meanwhile Miles and Maya are getting acquainted about wines and books and having a nice time.  But Miles is still hurting about his ex getting remarried.  And soon, with all the noise going on in the next room, Miles, rather awkwardly, leaves for his motel.

The next morning Jack tells Miles he fallen in love with Tara and wants to move up here. Jack tells them they have a hot tub date that night and they are going.  Miles is falling in line, wants to see Maya again, and they have a great time until the next morning when Miles spills the beans.

John Colella as Miles is delightful as the presumptuous wordsmith and wine connoisseur.  As a writer he demonstrably uses the adjective to its nauseating utmost. He gives us words to wet our pallet and shares his knowledge to fill our glass. But he is kind of corny as well. He is the master teacher and uses his skills to refine the Neanderthal that accompanies him. Miles is very unassuming when it comes to love, not sure of himself, and presumes to be a loser of love. Colella captures the right spirits of this self-deprecating character.

Jonathan Bray plays Jack, the man who accompanies his friend to the wine country with only one thought on his mind, and it ain’t the wine. He is getting married to someone who has a lot of money. And he wants his last bit of freedom with someone who is not going to be his wife. Bray hits all of the right notes.

Julia McIlvaine as Maya is quite good and I enjoyed her performance. As the character she is into romance, plain and simple, books and wine are just the one added accouterment to the mix. McIlvaine is very strong in her quiet moments.  Victories won and battles lost are moments that are not lost to the audience.  It is all part of the quiet actor’s craft that you take home with you. All in all a very nice performance.

Cloe Kromwell as Terra really falls head over heels with her counterpart.  One never really knows if it is true love, or the wine.  I suspect true love.  But she falls so fast. Kromwell speaks with a slight accent.  There is a reference to speaking French so it was probably a French accent. I thought I heard an Italian accent as well. Still Kromwell gives a delightful performance.

Kristelle Monterrosa as Libby is very cute and does a nice job in-between all of the scenes. But there is more here that is slightly enticing of her performance on stage, it is the way she moves, the dance that entices, the wink, the nod, the movement of her hands and feet that take her from one position and completes her objective.  Very nicely done.  She makes most of her moments on stage, getting on and getting off, and doing it wonderfully.

Carl Kocis as Charlie also did a lot of fine work on stage.  Kocis has a very nice stage presence and seems to enjoy every moment on stage. His enthusiasm was infectious.  

The same holds true for Hamilton Matthews as Brad.  Actually he has a picturesque quality of a Hatfield or McCoy and would fit fine for work in those roles.   He struts on stage as though he were stomping on dirt clods in the family garden.  But he does this for a purpose when he is moving around set pieces.  Matthews has some wonderful moments as Brad and a terrific gun scene.

The alternates who did not perform the night I was there were Ashley Love (Maya), Ashley Noel (Terra), Elizabeth Mulkey (Libby), Bram Barough (Brad), and Kevin Wyrauch (Chris)

Amelia Mulkey, the director, did an exceptional job and I particularly liked the action between scenes when the supporting characters were changing the scenes. It work and no momentum were lost during those changes. Simply put, this is a story about relationships.  The wine is an integral part and in Mulkey’s direction and the wine never leaves our sight. It is the aroma, the bite that stays with us and is part of the life of these characters.

(And just a small note.) There is a reason Miles takes Jack to The Hitching Post.  Miles is there to see Maya. It is a moment that needs definition between the three of them when Maya steps into the room.  Maybe it was there, but I didn’t see it on this night.  But, it was funny to see how Jack immediately sees the connection and Miles doesn’t.

Rex Pickett does a fine job converting his novel into a play. There are a lot of differences between the movie and the play and most of the differences in this play worked.  There is a boar-hunting scene, which represents the foolish things men do when they’ve had more than enough.  

CJ Strawn did a magnificent job with the Set Design.  It is such a small, intimate stage, to have a number of locations represented, was very good work.

Run to see this fantastic play before it closes on October 28th, 2012. You can fall in love with the characters all over again and spend the night thinking about the wines and wonderful relationships.

This fine production would not have been possible without the crew behind the curtain.  And those people are:

John Ruskin – Artistic Director
Michael Myers – Producer/Managing Director
Mike Reilly – Producer/Production Manager/Lighting Design
Jason Matthews – Producer
Nicole Millar – Assistant Director
Dan Speaker and Jan Bryant – Fight Choreography (Nice fight scene.)
Lola Kelly – Costumes

Run!  And take someone with a nice aroma.

No comments:

Post a Comment