Review: “The Tasting Room” in Napa

Adhering to Mark Twain’s advice to “write what you know”, Napa Valley’s Barry Martin has written and directed a play based on his experiences in the wine hospitality trade. The Tasting Room, running now at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center through August 18, is his comedic take on the individuals found on both sides of a tasting room bar.

The fictional Lusch (that’s pronounced loosh, not lush) Family Vineyards are struggling to survive, and sisters Rebecca (Taylor Bartolucci) and Emily (Danielle Debow) Lusch are doing their best to keep the doors open. Assisting them in this endeavor is wine educator Tony Spiccoli (Barry Martin), who’s not above adding some “special flavoring” to a rival vintner’s wine for comparison tasting.

Rebecca treats every patron as an inconvenience and that includes a gentleman named Sid Taylor (Michael Scott Wells). Mr. Taylor, who doesn’t seem to know much about wine, is about to get the heave-ho when it’s revealed that he’s the advance man for Wine Fanatic magazine and its imperious wine critic Elbert Fleeman (Michael Ross).

Tim Setzer

Fleeman and the Luschs seem to have some history, but that’s secondary to the fact that a good review from him could put the winery back on the path to solvency. They have just a few hours to prepare and a lot of their time is being taken up by a particularly pesky wine tourist (Tim Setzer).  How will the tasting go? And just what is the connection between Fleeman and Grandma Lusch?

Martin takes good-natured shots at just about everyone involved in the industry, from the jaded front-line hospitality staff to pretentious blogging connoisseurs. He has the most fun and generates the show’s biggest laughs with Tim Setzer’s wine tourist from hell. Setzer, who knows his way around a tasting room, is very funny in the role and plays well off of Martin’s wine-selling huckster.

Bartolucci earns laughs as well as the sister who’s never met a mimosa she didn’t like. Debow’s Emily is there to conveniently fall for the advance man and give the show a bit of a secondary plot, but Martin is asking his audience to swallow a lot that Fleeman would hire someone as un-wine-worldly as Sid to work for him.   

The Tasting Room doesn’t aspire to be much more than a live sitcom for locals – there’s nothing wrong with that – and at that level it succeeds.    

Rating (out of 5): ★★★½

’The Tasting Room’ plays through August 18 at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, 1758 Industrial Way, Napa. Thursday, 7pm; Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. $22–$32. 707.266.6305.

Photos by Heather Buck

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.

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