BWW Review: Gamm Theatre Delivers Powerful TRUE WEST
In the forty years since its debut, Sam Shepard's "True West" has been lauded for its stark portrayal of the duality of the American soul. The Gamm Theatre has mounted a visually compelling production with penetrating performances that slice to the heart of Shepard's darkly comedic vision.
On the surface, it's a simple story of sibling rivalry. Two brothers are visiting their vacationing mother's southern California house: Austin (Steve Kidd) is a polo-shirted struggling screenwriter; Lee (Anthony Goes) a rough-hewn drifter fresh from the desert. What begins as a testy tap-dance between world views soon sees both brothers run off the rails.
While Austin frantically tries to finish an outline for a pitch meeting with producer Saul Kimmer (Richard Donnelly), Lee is out boosting a TV from a neighbor's house. When Lee bursts into the meeting and begins to entrance Kimmer with his ideas for a "real" Western, the conflict between the brothers is kicked into overdrive and their identities begin to blur and cross.
As Lee, Anthony Goes sinks his teeth like a pit bull into one of contemporary theater's great roles, and he never lets go. From his first moment on stage, he captures the simmering rage of the unfulfilled American dream adrift in suburbia. In a bravura performance, he stalks, menaces, and cons, ultimately descending into helpless, inchoate typewriter-smashing rage.
Steven Kidd's charming veneer of fragile SoCal cool throughout the first act makes Austin's inversion all the more effective. He powerfully covers the range from the quick smile of a whiny self-absorbed writer to dark, bourbon-fueled angst.
Of course, beneath the surface, Shepard is after ideas about the duality of the American identity: Are we rugged frontier folk fresh from the desert or over-educated drones in an air-conditioned nightmare. Director Tony Estrella clearly gets this, and has captured it brilliantly here, in the intense, compressed staging, the tight pacing, and the vivid performances coached from the whole cast. Never overdetermined, he allows Shepard's words to flow through the action, and they hit the mark every time.
The set design, by Michael McGarty, is stunning. By setting the action on a raised trapezoid ten feet from the back wall, he's created a giant sky cyclorama for Jeff Adelberg's smooth and precise lighting to play with. The island stage aptly thematizes the unmoored isolationism of America, while the intensely detailed, highly functional design nails it firmly in its 1980s period. It is beautiful as an architectural drawing come to life. Charles Cofone's excellent sound design fills the theater with an ambient Western soundscape of crickets and coyotes. And Normand Beauregard's fight choreography deserves mention for its intensely physical authenticity.
If you're a fan of Shepard, you'll find this to be an outstanding production of one of his finest plays. And if you're new to his work, you're in for a real treat.
True West by Sam Shepard, directed by Tony Estrella at the Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd. Warwick, RI 02886. Tuesday-Sunday April 16-May 5 at 7:30pm, Wednesday & Sunday April 24-May 5 at 2:00pm. Tickets $44, $52, $60 available at 401 723-4266 or http://gammtheatre.org.
Photo credit: Peter Goldberg