by Adam Cohen
Rex Pickett’s new off-Broadway play Sideways features wine and commentary about wine. Inspired by his novel, the play includes pre-show wine and food sampling on stage. One will learn quite a bit about wine – both from the show and the sommeliers.
Set in California, novelist Miles (Brian Ray Norris) is smarting from his divorce and might have sold his opus. He and his television director buddy Jack (Gil Brady) launch a bachelor party week in the San Ynez wine valley prior to Jack’s nuptuials. The road trip includes sampling at several wineries. Norris perfectly captures the pretention and neuroses of Miles. Beneath the vast knowledge of literature and grapes, lies a man in palpable pain. His relationship with Jack is tenuous. Here his best friend pals around with Miles’ ex-wife and flirts with every woman in his path. Jack’s rapaciousness is grating – but Brady easily captures the surfer California tone and laconicism. They make an odd couple – which is part of Pickett’s point. Making and retaining good friendships as males age can be difficult – especially if you’re single. And Miles’ fear of losing out and being left behind enrages and frustrates him.
In the valley, the boy-men meet Terra and Maya. Terra (Jenny Strassburg), a bartender, takes an immediate liking to Jack. Miles dances about with Maya (Kimberly Doreen Burns), a waitress and wine and literature aficionado. The women bring a nice jolt of energy to the evening. Burns’ earthiness and sincerity counterbalances Norris’ tannin. Strassburg’s zestiness punctuates. Pickett’s script is overly dense with wine references and descriptions. The actors tend to sound like wine primers instead of characters the audience can truly feel empathy towards.
Director Dan Wackerman stages the production awkwardly. Poor Burns is left topless in a hot tub as the act breaks. But there’s a fierceness and honesty to all the performances and the tenuousness of friendship, marriage, fear, happiness is a realistic, relatable pot boiler.
Pre-show tickets include ample sampling of wine and duck potpie or squid ink doughnuts. It’s an experience.
Photos: Jeremy Daniel
Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 West 46th Street, btw. Ninth & Tenth Aves), produced by Peccadillio Theatre Co.
Run time: 2 hrs. 50 min.
Tickets and more information at www.sidewaystheexperience.com