Two shows hit North Bay stages whose titles audiences may recognize from their somewhat better-known film adaptations. First up is Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre’s presentation of Sideways, author Rex Pickett’s re-working of his 2004 novel which was adapted by filmmaker Alexander Payne into the multi award-winning film.
Adapting Pickett’s tale of a weeklong road trip/bachelor party through Central California wine country to a small, intimate stage would seem to be a bit of a challenge, but director/set designer Argo Thompson and his Left Edge team – in collaboration with Pickett – make it work. It’s well cast with Ron Severdia as Miles, a frustrated, unpublished author who’s sunk so low as to steal money from his mother to pay the rent and Chris Ginesi as Jack, Miles’ best friend and groom-to-be who’s a whirling dervish of positivity and testosterone. Jack sees the trip as his last chance to score before settling down. Miles just wants to get out of LA and escape into his own viticulturally-devised world. Their plans go a bit awry after meeting a couple of tasting room managers. Maya (Maureen O’Neill) seems to have an interest in Miles while Terra (Jazmine Pierce) has Jack thinking his upcoming nuptials may be a mistake.
If you know the film or novel, then you know the play. If you’re wondering how a story set in so many places can be fit onto a small stage, Thompson has designed a multi-functional set that easily transforms from a dingy apartment bathroom to a classy tasting room to a cheap motel room to a restaurant dining room, and all with minimal transition time.
Which is good, because the show feels a bit long. The pace should pick up a bit as the run gets rolling but the show could be streamlined a bit. Pickett has retained all the best scenes and lines of dialogue and there are plenty of laughs, but some scenes ran on and others seemed extraneous or repetitive. Payne changed the ending a bit in his Oscar-winning film script, but the play retains Pickett’s original conclusion. I think Payne was right. The ending as written seems a bit too pat with everything tidily wrapped up with a tone that is very different from the rest of the story.
Ah, but the rest of the story is so well done with the cast doing wonders with Pickett’s characters. Severdia and Ginesi are excellent in capturing the essence of male friendship and fraternal love when you can go from hugging your best friend one minute to punching him in the mouth in the next. O’Neill is quite effective as a weary divorcee whose scabs from marital wounds are picked fresh by Miles’ and Jack’s behaviors. Pierce does well as a free spirit who does not respond well to Jack’s machinations. Even the ensemble (Kimberly Kalember, Angela Squire and Mark Bradbury) get their moments as they take on all the other characters whose paths Jack and Miles cross from Miles’s mom to an effete tasting room manager.
One needn’t be a student of oenology to enjoy the Left Edge Theatre production of Sideways, but a glass or two of the stuff in the lobby beforehand (and at intermission) wouldn’t hurt – just don’t try to match the amount of drinking that seems to be going on on-stage.
In the vernacular of the Sommelier, it’s a full-bodied show that induces sufficient laughter to allow for proper aeration of its complex properties. This critic found Sideways well-balanced with just the right blend of humor and heart but with a finish that’s just slightly off.
Sideways plays through October 1st at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre in the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2pm.
For more information, go to leftedgetheatre.com