True West

The Auckland Performing Arts Centre: TAPAC, Auckland

13/08/2008 - 14/09/2008

Production Details

True West captures the emotive essence of the classic Western film on the stage. Playwright Sam Shepard manages to conjure the Western’s emotive cinematic presence on stage through dynamic dialogue, a striking narrative and direct cinematic allusion. The combination of Shepard’s scripting and the spectacular acting of a Gittins directed cast True West is an intense experience. The play evokes the stark, chilling and desolate feeling of the classic wild Western. What makes this play even more impressive is that the entire Western style narrative takes place inside two outlaw brothers’ mother’s kitchen.

True West is set just outside Los Angeles at the point suburbia meets the desert. An ambitious Hollywood screenwriter, Austin, is working on a potential million-dollar deal when, an ill wind off the desert blows in his brother Lee, a hobo thief with a six-pack. A sandstorm of sibling jealousy begins when a film producer offers Lee an advance to write a "true" Western. True West portrays a role reversal, as intricate as it is riveting, as the brothers journey toward Shepard’s outrageous version of the Western movie showdown.

Michael Lawrence and Richard Thompson star in the roles that have made careers for John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Tommy Lee Jones, Bruce Willis, Eric Estrada, Dennis & Randy Quaid and even Jim Belushi just to name a few. Philip Seymour Hoffman and J.C.Reilly were in a recent revival of True West alternating roles.

Characters in order of speaking:
LEE:  Michael Lawrence
AUSTIN:  Richard Thompson
SAUL:  Jim McLarty
MOM:  Darien Takle

Production credits:
Set Design:  John Parker
Lighting:  Nik Janiurek
Poster and Web Design:  Alistair Walling

Entertaining role reversal

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 29th Aug 2008

Playing to a near capacity mid-week crowd & well into their season, this independent production of American playwright Sam Shepard’s True West, which explores two brothers’ sibling rivalry & demons, still resonates 28 years after the play’s debut. Director Paul Gittins’ experienced hand, his skilled cast and creative team, have created an amusing night of theatre.

Austin, the dutiful son, smoothly played by Richard Thompson, is looking after his mom’s tidy house and much loved plants as she holidays in Alaska. Thompson gives a restrained portrayal of this ambitious yet terribly middle class bespectacled Hollywood screenwriter, who is working on a lucrative, career defining deal that he is about to pitch to visiting producer, Saul Kimmer.

By contrast, Michael Lawrence’s depiction of his uninvited hobo brother, Lee, a petty thief by trade, unleashes a raw beast, pacing back and forth like a caged animal, and prone to violent outbursts to accentuate his particular view.

Rough diamond Lee decides persuading Saul through manipulative charm to take a gamble on his outline for an outrageous Western, is a much better folly than his original reason for dropping by: stealing from his mom’s unsuspecting neighbours.

Matters come to an inevitable head when Saul, played with ease and consideration by Jim McLarty, ditches Austin’s sappy love story in favour Lee’s larger than life "true" Western.

Having set the stage for his unique take on a Hollywood Western movie face-off, complete with howling coyotes and crickets, Shepard delights in undoing a humiliated Austin and an unstoppable Lee. The brothers have at one another, culminating in an entertaining role reversal.

As the night wears on, Austin drinks himself into a sorry state then decides to single-handedly lead a dawn raid on the community’s unsuspecting toasters. Meanwhile Lee, having tried unsuccessfully to two-finger-type his blockbuster, attacks the device and anything else in reach, till he’s smashed everything in sight.

While Thompson is low key, even meek in presence and stature next to Lawrence in the first act, and their early fight sequences seem slightly miss-timed, he amps up the good brother’s journey in the second half, and both actors are at their best bouncing off one another in amongst the mess.

Into this chaos walks mom. Darien Takle uses the brief time she has on stage to accurately portray a dazed and confused parent in a state of shock.

John Parker’s ideal set design has the audience looking through mom’s kitchen window, beyond the outer edge of her tidy suburban existence, and into the desert’s wide-open space. Lighting designer Nik Janiurek brings warmth and summer colour to this entertaining night out.


Blair Cooper August 29th, 2008

Darien's surname is "Takle" not "Tackle". Spellcheck is not your friend. 
[Thanks Blair - fixed - ed.]

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