BWW Review: TRUE WEST at Susquehanna Stage Company
Considering it only has four characters and one setting, Sam Shepherd's True West has a lot going on. It is a show about the creative process, sibling rivalry and an exploration of the idea that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. The show is a character study, it has moments of great intensity, and moments of absurd humor. It is a difficult show to pull off, yet Susquehanna Stage Company hits all the right notes.
The plot revolves around the exploits of two brothers, Austin (Kevin Ditzler) and Lee (Tim Riggs). Austin is the low-ley, struggling screenwriter, housesitting for his mother in California. He is joined by his sketchy, transient brother, Lee, who splits his time between shotgunning beers and stealing TVs. When movie produce, Saul Kimmer (Ken Seigh) comes by to talk with Austin about a movie deal, Lee butts in and pitches some story ideas of his own. The remainder of the play concerns a slow, but dysfunctional, role reversal between brothers. It raises the question of whether talent or luck is more important for show business success.
Kevin Ditzler plays Austin with a calm, reserved nature. He never veers off into being overly wimpy or nerdy, which would be all too easy to do. Ditzler's Austin makes choices not because he is particularly intimidated by Lee, but, more so, because, he feels a sense of fraternal duty, and maybe even some love, for him. Austin's bizarre monologue about chop suey and false teeth was a highlight of the show.
Tim Riggs (last seen here in Cat on A Hot Tin Roof as Gooper, a very different type of hostile brother) runs the full gamut of emotions over the evening. He is threatening and impulsive with his brother, charming and outgoing with Saul, and servile and reverential to Mom. This is a different type of character than Riggs usually plays, and he proves that he is well up to the challenge.
The two actors have great chemistry, and looked like they were having a lot of fun. They were chugging beers, kicking around toasters, whacking a typewriter with a golf club, and generally making a big mess. The shared the stage for the show's entire two hour run time and are required to do many demanding tasks including memorize pages and pages of dialogue, enact convincing stage combat and walk a constant fine line between comedy and drama. The biggest compliment I can give them is that they make it look easy.
Ken Seigh is masterful as Saul, the stereotypically slick Hollywood mogul (was that an earring I saw?). He has no true loyalties, except to the almighty dollar. Georgie Reardon is very funny as Mom. She highlights the absurdity of the show, coming home to a houseful of dead plants, empty beer cans, and stolen toasters.
Director, Asher Johnson does a great job at maintaining the pace of the show. Key elements of the show including the detailed set, the cowboy music, the desert sound effects, and Lee's nasty costume enrich and enhance the storytelling.
True West is a solid, entertaining production. It is a great way to begin the 2018 season for Susquehanna Stage, and celebrates the extensive talent that this local theater is known for. Performances run now through January 21. Tickets and more information can be found at the theater's website.