BWW Reviews: Country Playhouse's TRUE WEST is a Taut and Comical Drama
Houston's theatre scene has been consistently upping the ante in 2013. Strong productions have been put on all over the city, and Country Playhouse has further elevated the bar with their tense and comical production of Sam Shepard's TRUE WEST.
TRUE WEST is about estranged brothers. They have not seen each other for five years, but Austin, the younger brother and Ivy League educated Hollywood screen writer, is house sitting in Southern California for his mother as she vacations in Alaska. His older brother, the tactless and coarse Lee, has returned to society after drifting through life in the desert. Austin submits to dominant Lee and tries to appease him, but things quickly unravel pitting the brothers in a competition where the stakes are high and the consequences devastating.
Direction by Debra Schultz is fast paced and perfectly discomforting. She ensures that every awkward and uncomfortable moment written into the script adroitly unnerves the audience. In between these anxiety inducing and dramatic moments, the audience laughs uproariously just as Sam Shepard intended. She cites that she directed the piece before, but that as a more mature person she feels that she better understands the work and its use of violence and angst. Regardless, her direction for this production is solid and highly enjoyable.
Bryan Maynard's Lee is fantastically nasty. He cleverly starts the show by doing everything he can to annoy and perturb his brother. His opening action of clicking the tab on a beer can elicited thunderous laughs from the preview night audience. Bryan Maynard embodies every irritating quality with true conviction and delivers an ideal performance as the domineering, contemptible, and boorish alpha male.
As Austin, Sam Martinez is much more subdued and submissive. He is a people pleaser with ambitions but is unwilling to step on toes. However, he has a breaking point and, when he reaches it, the pay off is astounding and pristinely acted. Sam Martinez ensures that the arc Austin is on is intriguing and refreshing.
Saul Kimmer, played by Scott Holmes, is the quintessential Hollywood producer. His voice and cadence is reminiscent of Harvey Fierstein, which brings a clichéd but much expected familiarity to the character's archetype.
Julie Oliver's portrayal of Mom is simply flawless. Her entrance ushers reason back into the play, which has gotten wildly out of hand until she enters. She plays dazed, confused, dismayed, and lost with grace.
Light Design by Cameron Cooper is simplistic but satisfying. He keeps the stage bathed in realistic lighting for a majority of the show; however, his final light cue perfectly fits the image that Sam Shepard and Debra Schultz want emblazed on your mind as you leave the theatre.
Bob Galley's Sound Design is faultless. The use of crickets and dogs barking is perfectly utilized to create an element of absolute realism that is valuable, respectable, and agreeable.
Debra Schultz's Scenic Design expertly creates a kitchen that is utterly truthful and accurate. While I'm not sure that the placement of the oven and range is entirely believable, it works in the production and does nothing to interfere with the performance itself.
Likewise, Costume Coordination by Debra Schultz captures 1980 without a hitch. Every article is time and character appropriate.
Country Playhouse's TRUE WEST is so tense that I couldn't help but chew my nails in between raucous fits of laughter. The characters are all plausible and well-rounded, making this nerve-racking and taut drama all the more genuine. It's one wild ride of a fascinating evening of theatre that you really won't want to miss.
TRUE WEST runs in Country Playhouse's Black Box through February 23, 2013. For more information and tickets, visit www.countryplayhouse.org or call (713) 467 - 4497.Photos courtesy of Country Playhouse.
Austin (Sam Martinez) and Lee (Bryan Maynard). Photo by Diana Howie.
Austin (Sam Martinez) and Lee (Bryan Maynard). Photo by Diana Howie. Photo by Lulu Tapia.