With deft direction by James Yost, Shattered Globe’s production of TRUE WEST made for a solid first Sam Shepard experience for this critic.Kevin Viol and Joseph Wiens have cultivated a convincing and powerful dynamic as estranged brothers Austin and Lee, who are holed up at their mother’s house in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Both actors’ performances ground Shepard’s drama and the uncomfortable rapport between the two siblings they portray provides some intense onstage moments.
Austin is an Ivy League graduate and a Hollywood screenwriter with a wife and children, while Lee has been residing alone in the desert for the past several years. While we do not learn the specifics of these men’s past, it’s clear that their upbringing was far from normal—making their adjustment to adulthood a rough one. Upon reconvening, however, the brothers soon begin to envy each other’s lifestyles. And in this envy, Shepard puts his unique twist on the gritty, American family drama. This exploration of duality intrigues, and of course, opens a number of questions. In Austin’s case, we particularly begin to wonder: if his life is so together, why is he willing to leave his family for an indeterminate period of time? When Lee dreams up a screenplay for a new “true” Western film, the situation becomes thornier. Not least of all because Hollywood producer Saul (played with an ideal swagger by Rob Frankel) becomes interested in Lee’s idea.
Viol and Wiens nail the sibling dynamic throughout. And despite the darkness embedded in Shepard’s script, they find plenty of humor in the material as well. Greg Pinsoneault’s set captures a perfectly shabby environment for the production and becomes in an ever more alarming state of disrepair as the show progresses (thanks to some deft additions during scene changes). Viol and Wiens make fine comedic work, in particular, with a bit in the second act containing a number of toasters. But it’s a moment that shifts rapidly from humorous to uneasy.
And while there are many such heightened, interesting moments in TRUE WEST, I found that the play lost some steam in the second act and dragged in a few places. The intensity ratchets up in the play’s final moments, however, when Mom (Rebecca Jordan) appears. Jordan makes nice work of the distant mother figure, who helps shed further light on the strange dynamic between Austin and Lee.
Watching Shattered Globe’s production, it’s clear why Sam Shepard’s writing is held in high esteem—even if this production doesn’t quite make the case for the remounting in this particular moment. It’s a sharp and intense script, and in the hands of these actors, well-executed.
Shattered Globe’s TRUE WEST plays at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont Avenue, through October 22. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased online at TheaterWit.org, by phone at 773.975.8150, or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Read the original review on BroadwayWorld.com.