McAnuff to direct ‘Sideways’ for La Jolla Playhouse


If you go




Matinees, evenings July 16-Aug.18


Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, UC San Diego campus


From $24

Box Office:

(858) 550-1010


By Diana Saenger

When author Rex Pickett was a student at UC San Diego, he worked with La Jolla Playhouse Director Des McAnuff on several projects, but reportedly only dreamed he would one day return with his own play for the director. Pickett’s popular novel, “Sideways,” was made into a film in 2004, directed by Alexander Payne and starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Nominated for five Oscars, the film earned more than 350 major awards.

In the story, Miles, a frustrated novelist, and Jack, an unknown TV actor/director, go away together through the Santa Ynez Valley wine country. It’s a guys’ getaway before Jack is to be married. What starts out as a fun celebration turns into a midlife crisis, where wine feeds their imagination, freedom and good intentions. As two women enter their journey, good intentions may just fly out the window.

McAnuff said he’s excited to direct Pickett’s work at the Playhouse. Pickett graduated Summa Cum Laude from UCSD and began writing scripts and adapting novels. He wrote a live action short that won a 2000 Academy Award, worked with David Fincher on the screenplay for “Alien 3,” and adapted “Sideways” as a play.

“I think these characters have become iconic and the script combines a bunch of areas I’m interested in,” McAnuff said. “It’s a very contemporary story, and the landscape feels very Californian to me.”

McAnuff described Miles (Patrick Breen) and Jack (Sean Allan Krill) as archetypal male characters. “You have the intellectual nerd, who is somewhat cerebral but is frozen emotionally. Then you have his friend, who is much more of a jock and impulsive, but with an open heart. In some ways they are polar opposites and opposites attract. You put them on the road in desperate situations where they each have their own demons, and that is the stuff of great comedy.

“Miles and Jack, and Maya (Nadia Bowers) and Terra (Zöe Chao) as well, are in crisis we are all likely to face. My mother had a great way of personalizing the (stage) work she sees, including my own, in that the theater prepares us for some of the things we go through in life. I think that’s true.”

McAnuff said he sees a connection to classic American literature in “Sideways.”

“If you had to describe the quintessential American novel it would be a road novel like way back, like with ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ Rex is kind of plugged into that with a mythic quality. I believe these characters belong on stage.

“Rex is a great wordsmith and we’ve expanded on words from the film. However, the play goes back to his book and draws on that language, too. This adventure is also a good excuse to get into some good California wine.

“We want writers’ notes, in terms of performances, and Rex is very well informed about wine in particularly in the Santa Ynez Valley,” McAnuff continued. “So we’re going to draw on this information. I’m also working with Shirley Fishman, the Dramaturg and my colleague since 2001. We constantly feed ideas and responses back and forth every day because I can do what I want with the production, but if the play isn’t truly powerful, than the quality of the production suffers. So the writer is our greatest concern, and it’s always a truly collaborative effort.”

McAnuff’s intuition about perspective projects have resulted in an impressive resume that includes being artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, director of Broadway productions like “Big River,” “The Who’s Tommy,” and “Jersey Boys,” and a legendary body of work at the La Jolla Playhouse, most recently “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” His decision to direct “Sideways” seems just as promising.

“Since we will all face some of things these characters face, ‘Sideways’ is kind of cathartic, but there’s another dimension in that it’s a very funny evening,” McAnuff said. “The behavior of the characters is outrageous, so it’s a comedy that’s a little self-effacing – a way of adding some humor to distance us from our own problems.”