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Remember Sideways? Now onstage! Interview with Rex Pickett

on 27/08/12 at 10:26 am

BoozeBlog, EVENTS

D.R. Stewart

Sideways goes upright on the Stage – Ruskin Group Theater puts up the first ever theatrical production as adapted by author Rex Pickett


photo credit: Agnes Magyari (Left to right: John Colella, Paul Denk, and Jonathan Bray

The 2004 movie Sideways was a juggernaut of a film for both art and commerce. Famously blamed for decimating the grape merlot and encouraging people drinking from the swill bucket at wineries, it also pushed pinot production/sales to new heights. Rex Pickett has often expressed mixed feeling about all of this, some right here in BoozeNews exclusive interviews. Here’s another exclusive interview with Pickett where he answered some of D.R. Stewart’s questions about the new stage production of Sideways at Santa Monica’s  Ruskin Group Theater.

Pickett lets us know right away the joy of creating a new incarnation of the work:  “I hate the dispiriting nature of development – i.e. screenwriting, but the stage is a fresh vehicle for audiences to experience the original story. This team at the Ruskin was so passionate about theater, so certain that ‘Sideways’ based on my novel — not the film — would lend itself to the stage, that this time the development process became truly rewarding.”

BoozeNews (BN):  Who approached who to do this production?

Rex Pickett (Pickett):  Jason Matthews, a writer-in-residence, I believe is his title, at the Ruskin Group Theater. I was selling and signing copies of Vertical, my Sideways sequel at the Barker Hangar, a huge event center on the Santa Monica Airport property. He approached me, said he was a fan of the movie, wondered if I had ever considered doing it as a play. I said I hadn’t, but that I was open to discussing the possibility. We met for coffee. He was very impressive in his presentation. I particularly liked the fact that the writer is king in theater, unlike film, where he is usually peripheralized. Not only would I have total control over the play script, I would get to hire the director, have final say on casting, etc. Where do I sign? I joked.

I then met with the main players at Ruskin Group Theater:  John Ruskin; Managing Director and the driving force behind the play, Mikey Myers; and Mike Reilly, their production manager. I loved their passion for the project. I loved the fact that they wanted it based on the book, and not the movie. And, most important of all, I loved the fact that it would one day be a play and not mired in development like so much feature film and TV writing is.

BN:  Are you satisfied with the results?

Pickett:  Ecstatic, euphoric. It was a dream collaboration. We’re in our 16th sold out week as of this writing and it’s been extended a third time to the end of September. The most rewarding creative experience of my life. And that’s coming from someone who has written and directed two indie features, written numerous screenplays for TV and film, and written a novel that became the critically-acclaimed and smash hit movie Sideways.

BN:  What was the process like of getting it on stage?

Pickett:  This is a long answer. But, basically, my novel that I based it on is very dialogue- and character-driven. So that lent itself to the stage. However, I wanted it to be as much like a movie as possible so I wrote it with a lot of scenes for a play – 23, to be exact. And not only were there 23 scenes, most of them required setting changes. The director, Amelia Mulkey, devised these wonderfully clever transitions so that the stage never went black. As for the writing it was mostly a matter of compression – losing scenes, coming up with creative solutions to amalgamate scenes, stuff that comes easy to me as a writer.

The casting was difficult, but we really lucked out with our final cast. They are amazing. It’s an extremely demanding play for the two leads, and John Colella (as Miles) and Jonathan Bray (as Jack) pull it off with bravado.

BN:  Does this give you added respect for playwrights?  Would you tackle the stage again?

Pickett:  I’ve always had tremendous respect for playwrights. Hell, they’re keeping the written word alive in this day and age when people are reading less and less. What it gave me more  respect for was theater and playwrighting in general. I love this medium. Dialogue is one of my fortes – or so I’m told – and dialogue, like the writer, is king in theater.  I would definitely tackle the stage again.

BN:  What’s the next big grape trend?

Pickett: South America. I’m going to be headed to Chile to write Part III of my now proposed Sideways trilogy. I truly believe they have the diversity of meso-climates to be one of the great wine regions in the world in the next two to five decades.

SIDEWAYS THE PLAY runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through September 16, 2012. Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors, and guild members) and can be purchased in advance by calling (310) 397-3244. For more information please visit www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. Free parking is available at the theater.

Postnote:  Pickett himself was pouring at this Saturday’s performance, and he has done so sporadically through the run. He even poured a Merlot created by the winery Sunstone called “The Apostate” made especially for him.