BWW Review: TRUE WEST at NEW CITY PLAYERS
New City Players presents their gripping production of Sam Shepard's True West!
Some critics consider True West to be the third of a Family Trilogy which includes Curse of the Starving Class (1976) and Buried Child (1979). Others consider it part of a quintet which includes Fool for Love (1983) and A Lie of the Mind (1985). As a leader of avant-garde, contemporary theatre, Shepard's plays are often outside the category of mainstream American theatrical fare. His settings are frequently amidst some vague, dingy part of the American Plains states. His characters are usually troubled, emotionally isolated members of a larger dysfunctional family unit. And the language with which he writes features a dark sense of humor, and a generally perverse view of interpersonal relationships that are intentionally designed to be disturbing. His intelligent brand of satire and symbolism can be thought-provoking for all, but understandably just disturbing for others.
The year is 1980, and 40 miles east of Los Angeles, California two estranged brothers, Lee and Austin, meet up in their mother's suburban home while she is away on vacation. Austin, the more educated and stable brother, has come to watch the house and tend the plants while working on his latest screenplay. Lee, the hot-headed and criminal brother, arrives uninvited to scour the surrounding homes for valuables to blunder. Over the next several days they find themselves locked in a battle of wills that expresses itself in how they perceive their relationship with one another as well as their own sense of individual identity. It all unravels toward an inevitably tortured and twisted "Shepard-esque" outcome.
Timothy Mark Davis is simply freakin' brilliant as Lee as he belches, bullies and blusters his way through this production True West. With dirty nails, yellow teeth and greasy hair, the acrid smell of his resentment of society wafts toward the audience as strongly as the imagined stench of the unwashed clothes he wears. Davis is fearless in his approach to the unpredictable edge of his character, and faces each illogical emotional swell like a surfer flinging themselves headlong into a rogue wave. He is crass without being comical, and dangerous just shy of assault. I am totally in awe of his performance, and totally perturbed by the Soflo Carbonells for choosing this production as not Carbonell recommended.
Lee's brother Austin is played by Timothy Mark Davis' real life brother, Andrew Paul Davis. There is certainly a believable ambivalent familiarity born of the two blood brothers playing these roles that would be much harder to achieve with two other actors.
Andrew's character is written as far more sedate than Lee. In the beginning of the play I got a calm on the surface, but nervous underneath feel for the character of Austin. As the show went on I began feeling like that was more of what the actor was like than the character. Because Timothy is playing his character with no boundaries, it becomes more obvious that Andrew never really lets go completely. Each needs to be equally at risk within their own realm of comfortability.
Saul Kimmer is utterly believable as film producer Saul. He has the right mix of polish to huckster. Not that all film producers are necessarily hucksters, but they do have to pitch, persuade and wheedle a deal like a used car salesman at times. They just do it all while dropping names, driving a Mercedes, and wearing a Rolex. Kimmer's manicured look and carefully solicitous nature speak of someone always appraising and closing the deal.
Lory Reyes as Mom has an altogether too brief scene in the play that seems awkwardly placed. I agree her arrival should seem awkward when placed against the utter chaos of her home at the time of her arrival. But her presence itself, and how she relates to her sons should not feel awkward. It came of as a bit stilted on the night attended, and there was no sense of her connection to either son.
The 1980's style kitchen set works wonderfully as the centerpiece for the action at hand. The Vanguard somehow manages to feel intimate to the stage without the space itself or the seating feeling claustrophobic. It helps to be immersed in the moment, and as dysfunctional as it is, I loved every uncomfortable moment of being part of the devastation of the kitchen in the second act. I silently applauded in my head when Timothy unflinchingly smashed the typewriter to bits with the golf club, and bits of white plastic typewriter keys flew through the air. And I smiled as he uncaringly stomped across every pot, pan and plate he'd flung from the cabinets onto the floor. What a wonderful way to spend time with the work of the recently departed playwright Sam Shepard. He lived to push boundaries, and this production does just that.
Sam Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers IV on November 5, 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Outside of his stage work, he has achieved fame as an actor, writer, and director in the film industry. As a playwright he has written over 45 plays, eleven of which have won Obie Awards. His many awards and honors, in 1986 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 1992 he received the Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.
True West was first performed at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, where Shepard was the resident playwright. That production, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Peter Boyle, later premiered Off-Broadway at Joseph Papp's The Public Theater. There it opened on December 23, 1980 and closed on January 11, 1981. A revival of the play was produced later by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 1982, with actors Gary Sinise (who also directed the production) and John Malkovich playing the leads. This production transferred to Off-Broadway, at Cherry Lane Theatre in October 1982, and closed on August 4, 1984 after 762 performances. A second revival of True West opened at the Circle in the Square Theatre on February 17, 2000, and closed on July 29, 2000 after 154 performances. This production is notable in that the lead actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly switched parts every so often during the run. Both Hoffman and Reilly each received a nomination and the revival was also nominated for Best Play and Best Director (Matthew Warchus).
New City Players is a not-for-profit, ensemble theatre company in Fort Lauderdale. They exist to stage exceptional classic and contemporary theatre that provides an emotional and transformative experience for every audience member.
This New City Players production of True West will be appearing at The Vanguard through August 27, 2017. The Vanguard is located at 1501 S. Andrews Avenue, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. There will be talkbacks scheduled after the performances on July 9, 16 and 23. Tickets for Twelfth Night are $35 for adults, $30 for seniors, and $20 for students and may be purchased online at newcityplayers.org or by calling (954)-650-5938.
Austin: Andrew Paul Davis
Lee: Timothy Mark Davis
Saul Kimmer: John Holley
Mom: Lory Reyes
Director: Mary Elizabeth Gundlach
Scenic Design: Ryan Maloney
Lighting Design: Joel De Sousa
Sound Design/Stage Manager: Rachel Smoker Cox
Photo By: Ryan Arnst