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You'll Need Some Pinot to Get Through Off-Broadway's Sideways

Rex Pickett adapts his novel, which was also the basis for the Oscar-winning film, for the stage.

Gil Brady (Jack), Jenny Strassburg (Terra), Brian Ray Norris (Miles), and Kimberly Doreen Burns (Maya) in Sideways at the Theatre at St. Clement's.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

You're gonna need at least one glass of wine to make it through Sideways, Rex Pickett's new off-Broadway play, inspired by his novel, now running at the Theatre at St. Clement's. Neither the play nor the Peccadillo Theater Company production is egregiously terrible — it's not "f*cking merlot," as they derisively say — but it just doesn't hold a candle to the movie, no matter how they try to make it like the movie. And they try remarkably hard.

Like its literary and cinematic predecessors, Sideways is a bromantic travelogue. Miles (Brian Ray Norris), a recently divorced failed novelist, and Jack (Gil Brady), a television director about to marry into wealth, are two best friends on a road trip through Santa Ynez wine country the week before Jack's wedding. Jack has a goal for the journey: He wants to get laid one last time before he settles down. They soon meet Terra (Jenny Strassburg), a bartender who takes a liking to Jack, and she and Jack immediately pop the cork. Miles, meanwhile, finds a potential mate in waitress Maya (Kimberly Doreen Burns), though he's still hung up on his newly remarried ex-wife.

The misadventures of these two shallow losers played a lot better on the silver screen in 2004, when stories about guys on the prowl with a penchant for lying didn't seem so culturally out of place. But Alexander Payne's film had the benefit of a lot of other things besides time not then being up: the beautiful scenery of California; self-effacing performances from Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh; and a quirky, Oscar-winning screenplay that Pickett didn't pen.

True, the biggest problem here is the specter of the film. Sideways the movie was a vast improvement over Sideways the novel, and Pickett, slavishly adapting his book for the stage, has overcompensated by writing a play that doesn't have any ounce of truth in its self-indulgent, loquacious dialogue, and a two-and-a-half-hour running time that feels a lot longer)..

Director Dan Wackerman has gone out of his way to assemble a company that looks like doppelgängers of their screen counterparts. It's jarring how closely Norris, Brady, and Burns resemble Giamatti, Church, and Madsen, but they just can't make the stilted dialogue sound human. Strassburg fares best as Terra, a lioness to counter Brady's libido-driven Jack.

The best part of Sideways comes before the show, that is, if you're willing to cough up $175. Ninety minutes before curtain, celebrity caterer Mary Giuliani provides a spread of delicious gourmet foods — duck confit potpies, squid ink pasta doughnuts — alongside a variety of wines to sample provided by Refills are ample, and, really, tipsy is the only way to watch this show. Get the rosé and thank me later.


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