by Shirley Lorraine
Brothers Collide in True West at Elite
A thought-provoking piece by prolific American author Sam Shepard, True West is considered to be Shepard’s “signature” works. The gritty characters are somewhat autobiographical and speak to his preoccupation with the myth of a vanishing West. Elite’s Artistic Director Tom Eubanks directs the 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning offering.
Austin, a screenwriter, is house-sitting for his mother who is away on vacation to Alaska. Interrupting the flow of his work enters Austin’s estranged older brother, Lee, a bombastic grifter and opportunist. His main occupation is drinking, however, at which he excels. Much to Austin’s dismay, Lee settles in and makes himself at home.
Austin is desperately trying to finish his current script before meeting with his agent, Saul Kimmer, due in the next day. Lee makes an unscheduled appearance and immediately bullies Saul into meeting with him over golf so he can pitch his own story, a Western.
Conflicts arise when Saul agrees to can Austin’s work in favor of Lee’s new story. Both brothers are badly in need of this redemptive contract and tension builds as they struggle to get the completed story on paper. Ultimately, the roles become reversed as they both realize they must see this through to survive. Austin drinks to cope with the situation and Lee begins to see light over the horizon, at least financially.
Mom eventually returns from her trip, dismissing the brother’s tussle and differences. It appears that both sons have been enabling their alcoholic father over the years, which contributes to the emotional conflict. Mom chooses to ignore the reality of the situation completely.
The brothers are played by Aaron Gardner as Austin and Sean Mason as Lee. Both capture the essence of their characters to the core. Gardner comes across as a fairly meek man struggling to provide for his family, while Mason pulls out all the stops as the disheveled drunkard drifter.
Saul Kimmer is given a superb characterization by Buddy Wilds with just the right amount of stereotypical oily persona. His Hawaiian shirts alone exude the essence of the laid-back go-with-the-flow man who can easily be persuaded to change his mind by losing a bet on the golf course. Marilyn Lazik embodies the briefer role of the slightly confused and deluded Mom. Mom’s appearance doesn’t stop the arguing brothers but does add dimension to the overall dysfunctional picture.
The piece highlights the duality of each brother secretly wishing to be in the others’ shoes. Austin wishes he had the freedom on which brother Lee thrives, while Lee expresses his deep-down desire for the stability that Austin enjoys.
True West is billed as a comedy and although there are some laughs throughout, the action and dialogue between the belligerent bully and the home-in-the-suburbs family man takes on a pervasive dark tone accented by dim lighting. A detailed interior setting by Henry House becomes its own character in the play, providing context and a background canvas of stability and warmth that contrasts with the brothers’ situation and actions.
True West runs through March 25. Friday & Saturday eves 8 PM, Sunday matinees 2 p.m. General admission $20. Seniors and students $17. Season subscriptions are also available. Reservations are encouraged. 483-5118 Elite Theatre Company, 2731 Victoria Avenue, Fisherman’s Wharf, Channel Islands Harbor www.elitetheatre.org