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Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On Ethan Hawke And Paul Dano In TRUE WEST On Broadway

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True West

Roundabout Theatre Company's new Broadway production of Sam Shepard's Tony & Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama True West, directed by James Macdonald (The Children), opens tonight at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway.

True West stars Ethan Hawke as "Lee" and Paul Dano as "Austin." The cast also includes Marylouise Burke as "Mom" and Gary Wilmes as "Saul Kimmer."

Opposites attack in Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-nominated play about two brothers with more in common than they think. Holed up in their mother's California house, screenwriter Austin (Dano) and lowlife Lee (Hawke) wrestle with big issues-and each other. Order vs. chaos. Art vs. commerce. Typewriter vs. toaster...Shepard's rip-roaring classic returns to Broadway, gleefully detonating our misguided myths of family, identity and the American Dream.

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Sam Shepard's wild West just got a lot scarier. I'm talking about that shadowy, shifting desertscape occupied so disharmoniously by the two brothers of Shepard's 1980 masterwork, "True West," which has been given a ripping revival by James Macdonald at the American Airlines Theater. As embodied bya brilliant Ethan Hawke, in full-menace mode, and a tightly wired Paul Dano, everyday sibling rivalry has seldom felt this ominous.

Matt Windman, amNY: Both can easily be found online and are far preferable to the play's problematic new Broadway revival, which is directed by James Macdonald ("The Children") and stars a top form Ethan Hawke (in his first Broadway outing since a disastrous "Macbeth" in 2013) and an utterly miscast Paul Dano ("Ruby Sparks").

Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: But while "True West" fails to add up to a convincing dramatic whole, it still works as a vehicle for two first-class actors, and the stars of this revival qualify. Mr. Hawke, who has the flashier of the two parts, comes on strong, occasionally over-egging the pudding (you get the feeling that he's enjoying himself a little too much) but nonetheless giving a performance in which you can smell the anger and envy leaching out of his pores. Mr. Dano, by contrast, is both subtler and more interesting: Here as in "Love & Mercy," he plays a character whose bland surface serves as camouflage for roiling interior turmoil, and everything he does in "True West" is excitingly surprising.

Paul Dziemianowicz, The New York Post: Snarling and sneering, Hawke conjures the right kind of feral menace, much like the coyotes heard howling outside the home. But Dano, blank-faced and bland, offers next to nothing to play or punch against. The "Escape at Dannemora" star fades into the scenery even when Lee pounds his typewriter to pieces with a golf club.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: If there's one thing a production of "True West" must have, it's that haunting sense of the two brothers being one person at war with himself. That's exactly what director James Macdonald's new Broadway production doesn't have. Hawke seethes and smolders in a thrilling approximation of Lee's craziness, but there's no hint of Austin in his manic performance. And while Dano is completely convincing as the repressed Austin, there's no sign of his secret bad boy, not even when he's breaking into houses and stealing toasters.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Shepard's enigmatic play defies easy interpretation, with its vague themes of sibling rivalry, the mythos of the American West and the thin line between civilization and anarchy never truly coming into focus. But it works marvelously as a mood piece, which for several reasons this production only partially succeeds in capturing. The expansive American Airlines Theatre isn't intimate enough to provide the necessary air of claustrophobia; the slack pacing of Act I allows boredom to settle in; and Hawke, as good as he is, is a bit too studied in his affect. He certainly tries hard, but you never get the sense of true danger that his character is supposed to emit.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Both the fun and menace of Sam Shepard's True West-and the latest Broadway adaptation which opened tonight has both in vivid bursts-is to see two brotherly opposites swap sides and spirits.

Greg Evans, Deadline: Hawke and Dano are well-suited in both temperament and talent for the Roundabout's Broadway revival of Shepard's once-shocking blast of new wave absurdism, opening tonight at the American Airlines Theatre.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: If the charismatic Hawke all but wipes the floor with Dano in the play's first half, Dano gets his turn to act out in Act Two. These are showcase roles, and the actors play them with gusto. James Macdonald's Roundabout Theatre Company production occasionally errs on the side of the obvious: Marylouise Burke brings her customary off-kilter comic panache to her cameo as the brothers' late-returning mom, but Gary Wilmes smears an extra layer of grease on the already oleaginous role of a Hollywood producer, and a showy change of lighting undermines Austin's big story about how his dissolute father lost two pairs of teeth.

David Cote, Observer:Now the Roundabout Theatre Company takes a whack at this testosterone- and booze-soaked brotherly beatdown, and the results are disappointingly wan. First, credit where it's due: British director James Macdonald treats the script as if it were a well-built drama, and not the scrappy excuse for histrionics and set bashing that it basically is. Macdonald's intelligent, detailed work reveals the play's symmetries, its nicely orchestrated musical qualities that alternate crashing violence and noise with hushed moments of melancholy. In other words, this is the most well-behaved True West I've ever seen.

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: True West, that drama of Cain-and-Abel family dynamics and masculinity stunted like a Joshua tree is back on Broadway. Probably Sam Shepard's most popular play and the one in which his artistry and his preoccupations collide most openly and honestly, True West is catnip - or neat whiskey - to a certain kind of male actor with an interest in both indulging a macho sensibility and deconstructing it. For this production, the Roundabout, under James Macdonald's direction, has brought together Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano, who somehow produce all the great upheaval of a 10-gallon hat left out in a drizzle.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: How can one actor be so good and another so misguided in the same production? That bizarre mash-up happens in the Roundabout's new revival of Sam Shepard's "True West," which opened Thursday at Broadway's American Airlines Theatre. Indeed, how can Ethan Hawke deliver such a grandiose, inspired performance as the bad brother Lee across the stage from a wan, overly ironic performance by Paul Dano that flirts with embodying, but never grabs hold of, the good brother Austin? James Macdonald directs this very unbalanced spectacle.

Nicole Serratore, The Stage: Macdonald extracts humour from the play but the outlandish disintegration in the second act does not quite come off, in part due to Dano's reticence. His introspective approach works well in the first act, but he is less convincing when he lets loose. Hawke, however, is superb. His Lee is a lizardy con man with limited hustle who's desperately playing his only hand. Belly jutting out, covered in sweat and filth like nothing could ever wash him clean, Hawke physically digs into the role. With an obscene finger gesture or a subtle slump in his posture, he alternatively radiates helplessness, shame, innocence, predation.

Elysa Gardner, New York Stage Review: In elder brother Lee, a drifter and thief, Hawke has found a vehicle for both his comedic facility (not always mined or guided adroitly, on stage or screen) and his capacity for menace. The character turns up at the house, his mother's, to find Austin, a productive screenwriter with a prestigious education and a family of his own, keeping an eye on the place while Mom is on vacation. As Austin sits dutifully at his typewriter, trying to resist Lee's attempts to distract and goad him, Dano is at first blush the mild-mannered, put-upon nerd, a model of forbearance, however prickly or glib at points.

Jesse Oxfeld, New York Stage Review: The play, about a pair of estranged brothers and their apparent role reversal under pressure, is as funny as it is serious, and this new staging, directed by James Macdonald, a specialist in heavy-hitters, is as entertaining as it is profound. This is not a revelatory new interpretation, but it's a serious and successful look at a seminal modern work.

Jessica Derschowitz, Entertainment Weekly: Hawke and Dano - who've both received accolades recently for the film First Reformed and the Showtime series Escape at Dannemora, respectively - do an excellent job going round for round, playing into the comedic moments of their fighting, and director James Macdonald gives the play a cinematic touch by using music and a picture-frame effect of bright lights around the stage between scenes. (The costumes, by Kaye Voyce, get more disheveled as the action ramps up.) But while watching them go at it is entertaining, what the play is fighting for isn't as clear. There are themes of sibling rivalry and family strife (their father, unseen but spoken of, is a drunk living alone out in the desert), the idealized lawlessness of the Wild West, the way Hollywood deals are done and just as easily undone. But all those questions are left unanswered, with strewn beer cans and dead plants to show for all the debate.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: Hawke is lighting a fire (literally and figuratively) at the center of the play and clearly having a ball doing it. But on the other side of things, through some imperfect alchemy of actor, director, and character, Dano's Austin can't take the heat. He's so recessive for so long that Lee has nothing much to push against. Shepard builds tension between the brothers scene by scene, but here, an Austin who bends, deflates, and dwindles so easily and so consistently starts to make the play feel repetitive rather than cumulative, a drone rather than a gradual ribcage-rattling crescendo. When Dano finally reaches Austin's key aria - in which he quietly tells Lee the grim, pathetic story of their alcoholic father's trip to Juarez to get all his teeth pulled by a backstreet dentist - he's at last in his melancholy element. But the road to get there has been long and frustratingly flat.

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