Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
July 26, 2013
Something old, something new, and something both borrowed and blue.
Borrowed – or adapted — from other entertainment formats, that is. “Sideways” started out as a novel by Rex Pickett, and became a wildly popular movie in 2004. Now Pickett has re-conceived the story as a stage-play.
The central characters remain the same: two narcissistic slimeballs . Jack, a wannabe actor surfer-dude, wants one final fling before his wedding. His buddy Miles is a divorced, depressed, desperate writer, a borderline alcoholic and pedantic word-and-wine freak. His bachelor party for Jack is a whirlwind tour of in the Santa Ynez Valley vineyards where, between stupors, they meet up with two wineistas . Jack has a tempestuous, randy affair with Terra, while Miles is more tentative with Maya.
These puerile sleazes, who lie, cheat and even steal from Mom, end up in inverse relationships: one gets money but not love; the other may have love, but no money. Neither one deserves anything good. And yet, their ridiculous shenanigans, peppered with F-bombs, are irresistibly amusing. Pickett writes terrific dialogue – but not very fleshed-out females. The women are beautiful cyphers; both get to display explosively justified anger, but little else.
Still, the journey is engaging, replete with sex, nosebleeds, a car crash and a much-fired rifle. Des McAnuff directs with a light hand, and Robert Brill’s set is striking, backed by gorgeous, painterly wine country scenery.
The performances are first-rate. The lighting, sound and costumes are perfect. You may learn something about wine, but these unsavory guys might leave you with a hangover.
Women aren’t given too much latitude in “The Rainmaker,” either. In N. Richard Nash’s 1954 portrait of Depression-era drought, Lizzie Curry is 27 and destined for spinsterhood. She’s plain, as her brother so kindly reminds her, and has few options and little hope. Then, in walks Starbuck, a con-man who promises a deluge for 100 dollars. He winds up transforming the whole family.
In the Old Globe’s handsomely designed production, warmly directed by Maria Mileaf , the father-son and father-daughter dynamics are excellently portrayed. It’s Starbuck who lacks the requisite charm and charisma. But Mileaf makes this Lizzie’s story, and in Danielle Skraastad’s hands, it’s potent and poignant.
Now, for a little musical-comical relief, consider Shakespeare done doo-wop. Intrepid Shakespeare Company is reprising last year’s wonderful rendering of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Musical,” with a mostly new cast. Kevin Hafso-Koppman is an acrobatic wonder as the magical Puck, and Phil Johnson is absolutely side-splitting, indubitably born to play the asinine would-be actor, Bottom. The direction and choreography are inspired, though I miss last summer’s stunning rope-swinging pas de deux . Nonetheless, this show is a winner; and an ultra-fun family outing.
So, it’s dry, wet or dreamy. Choose your mid-summer diversion.
“THE RAINMAKER” runs at The Old Globe through August 11.
“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, THE MUSICAL” plays through August 18 at Intrepid Shakespeare Company in Encinitas.
“SIDEWAYS” continues at the La Jolla Playhouse through August 25.
©2013 PAT LAUNER