BWW Review: TRUE WEST at the Seattle Rep Bares the Teeth of a Classic
Most theatergoing people know of Sam Shepard's "True West". It's considered a classic of American Theatre. But I have a question for you, "Have you seen it?" It's revived every few years on Broadway but not so much locally. And I will admit, I knew it but never had the opportunity to see a production. So, when the Seattle Rep announced it as part of their season, I was thrilled to fill in that gap in my theatrical knowledge. And then when they announced a stellar cast including Kevin Anderson who killed it in last season's "Last of the Boys", I was even more thrilled. And now after seeing it (finally) I can see why it's a classic with its superb dialog and storytelling and why actors, such as Anderson, clamor to be able to sink their teeth into these meaty characters when they come around.
It's a fairly simple premise but the characters are far from simple. Screenwriter Austin (Zachary Ray Sherman) is housesitting for his Mom (Lori Larsen) while she's away on vacation. Austin's brother Lee (Kevin Anderson), a self-proclaimed drifter and thief, has shown up threatening to disrupt Austin's quiet. Austin is trying to get some work done on a new screenplay as well as meet with a potential producer, Saul (Brandon J. Simmons), but Lee keeps interrupting him until finally he interrupts the meeting and Austin's calculated world is threatened by Lee's chaos.
Shepard's piece deftly dissects this troubled relationship between these two brothers who couldn't be more different. With his outstandingly honest and natural dialog we see how the two, with a similar upbringing, can become such wildly different adults, but also how each of them affects and shapes the other. They begin as such polar opposites but as the show goes on, artfully directed by Braden Abraham, you can see how they're cut from the same cloth, or two sides of the same piece of toast, or whatever metaphor you prefer. And Abraham makes sure that the pace of the show doles out the arc of these two without you even realizing the changes until they're upon you. And I also must commend the fantastic set and lighting from Tim Mackabee and Marcus Doshi as well as the stage crew who have to clean it up each night.
But this is a show definitely conveyed by the actors and the dialog and the ensemble is marvelous. Larsen has the smallest role in the piece but owns the place as soon as she sets foot in it. And Simmons brings in a subtle duplicity to the role as you're never quite sure which way he's going to go. But it's the brothers that handle the lion's share of the show and it's a stunning bit of work from each of them. Sherman may start out as the meek underdog but when he let's go, he manages to beautifully turn the tables on the initially Alpha male Lee. And Anderson as Lee brings in a tour de force as he bares every side of this broken character and manages to make him intensely intimidating in each moment, never sure what will set him off. And the two together create such a volatile chemistry that I'm surprised the Bagley didn't explode.
Well now I've seen it and, both from the piece itself and from this production, I'm theatrically richer for it. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "True West" a thrilled YAY. It's always a pleasure to see the classics done well and last night the pleasure was all mine.