A NoHo Arts theatre review of the Group Rep’s production of “True West,” written by Sam Shepard, directed by Brooklyn Sample, produced by Kathleen Delaney and William Wilson, running through May 8 Upstairs at the Lonny Chapman Theatre.
Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated classic of the American theatre, “True West,” is a dazzling character study about two brothers, so very different from each other, spending several days together watching their mother’s house while she is away on a cruise. The youngest brother, Austin, is a screenwriter working on his latest script. The older brother, Lee, is a drifter, a thief and an alcoholic who delights in taunting Austin, pushing him to the brink of anger, keeping the atmosphere in the house charged with violence and lies.
This play has been performed by some of the greatest actors of their times, on Broadway, in the West End and on film. Sam Shepard’s work is always so deceptively simple, but it’s the spaces between the words where all the truth lies. Set in their mother’s kitchen, the story revolves around the idea that ego and rivalry and resentment are fluid, it can shift and move between two people, and it’s not always obvious who is more masculine, who more vulnerable.
These two brothers carry with them the burden of expectation, the brutality of an aging father falling apart the image of the western hero – strong, courageous and independent, – or his opposite, the cruel and savage villain. Each of them wants part of what the other already has. Austin wants the freedom he sees in his brother’s life, while Lee wants the success, the recognition and the perceived value of the talent Austin has. Yet, they are both wrong, of course. But, when the film producer Saul comes to the house to work with Austin on his script and Lee pitches his own idea for a film the play begins to turn, the audience expecting one thing and getting another entirely.
As dangerous as these brothers’ relationship is, as intense and fraught and ready to explode at any moment, nothing, it seems, compares to the sociopathic nature of a Hollywood producer.
“True West” is a very intense play. There is very real violence, both psychological and physical, and the kind of tearing apart of family that feels dangerously real. Both lead actors are phenomenal. They teeter on the edge of the chaos of it all with a deep understanding of the nature of these men.
Honestly, I was on the edge of my seat throughout. Watching actors perform something so cunningly written and achingly sad with such a real sense of the pain these two men are in and why… was thrilling.
Any time you have a chance to see a Sam Shepard play performed on stage is a very good day. But, this particular production at the Group Rep is truly excellent, which is a very nice bonus!
The play runs through May 8, but there are only two shows a weekend, so don’t dawdle. It runs in rep with the musical review “L.A. Now and Then.”
Let’s be thankful that the Group Rep survived the last couple of years and even more grateful that they chose such utterly darkly beautiful work as this to share with us. Bravo to all!!
The Group Rep cast features the talents of William Wilson (Austin), James Lemire (Lee), Jason Madera (Saul) and Clara Rodriguez (Mom).
The Production Team includes Matt Sample (Set Designer/Artist ‘Coyote Painting’), Luke Moyer (Lighting Designer), Michael Mullen (Costume Designer), Steve Shaw (Sound Designer), Tyler Townsend (Technical Advisor), Marc Antonio Pritchett (Stage Combat), Melanie Lee (Assistant Director), Cathy Tomlin (Stage Manager), Melissa Bontempt (Crew), Doug Engalla (Videography/Photography), Doug Haverty (Graphic Design), and Kristin Stancato (Online Marketing/Social Media).
Running through May 8
Saturdays at 4pm and Sundays at 7pm
Upstairs at the Lonny Chapman Theatre
10900 Burbank Blvd. NoHo Arts District 91601