If you’d substituted the wine drinking for beer drinking, “Sideways” the movie might have become the ultimate guy picture, because it had all the other requisite elements, including sexual escapades with two gorgeous women. Even with wine instead of beer, “Sideways,” adapted from Rex Pickett’s novel, became a hit that burnished the reputations of director Alexander Payne, actor Paul Giamatti and the Santa Ynez Valley wine country. Now Pickett’s tale of two buddies on a no-holds-barred road trip has been turned into a play, adapted by Pickett and directed by Des McAnuff for La Jolla Playhouse.
Can a road movie be turned into a play? Absolutely. With the inventive use of quickly interchangeable tasting-room, hotel-room and restaurant sets, along with picturesque backdrops of the Central Coast, this Playhouse production carries you away every bit as well as the film did. After all, “Sideways” is less a travelogue than a ride-along with two flawed but funny protagonists, the neurotic oenophile Miles (Patrick Breen) and the engaged party boy Jack (Sean Allan Krill). When they encounter comely waitress Maya (Nadia Bowers), party-girl wine pourer Terra (Zoe Chao) and a beer-swilling boar killer named Brad (Tom Patterson), you know you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Pickett’s play takes a few significant detours from the 2004 film (director Payne and Jim Taylor wrote that screenplay), but the essence of the story is the same. The Playhouse cast is, like a good pinot noir, rich and memorable, with Krill turning in a knockout performance that blends physicality with deft timing. His Jack, hedonist though he may be, is also more likable and profound than Thomas Haden Church’s movie version. Krill’s Jack is a friend to the end – betrayals, bloody noses and all.
Breen has his moments – especially when Miles is filthy drunk – and the boar hunt the guys embark upon is a raucous departure from the tasting rooms. Terra’s gun-wielding confrontation of the duplicitous Jack is even more dangerous to our heroes. But survive it all they do.
“Sideways” the play is more profane than the film (a good thing) and less precious (an even better thing). Wine lovers will be thirsty on the way out – maybe a few beer drinkers too.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.