Pulitzer Prize Finalist Script
True West is a play by American playwright Sam Shepard and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1983. The play is being presented now at Theatre Wit by Shattered Globe Theatre.
The play is a character study that examines the relationship between Austin, a screenwriter, and his older brother Lee. It is set in the kitchen of their mother's home 40 miles east of Los Angeles. Austin is house-sitting while their mother is in Alaska, and there he is confronted by his brother, who proceeds to bully his way into staying at the house and using Austin's car. In addition, the screenplay which Austin is pitching to his connection in Hollywood somehow gets taken over by the pushy con-man tactics of Lee, and the brothers find themselves forced to cooperate in the creation of a story that will make or break both their lives. In the process, the conflict between the brothers creates a heated situation in which their roles as successful family man and nomadic drifter are somehow reversed, and each man finds himself admitting that he had somehow always wished he were in the other's shoes.
This play lives or dies on the performances of the 2 brothers. Ken Viol (Austin) and Joseph Wiens (Lee) nail Shepard’s over lengthy dialogue in a compelling and masterful way. Both of their characters are minutely detailed and defined and because of this they kept me riveted throughout the 2 hours running time (which seems at times like 3 in the lengthy second act).
As the rather cliché Hollywood film producer Saul, Rob Frankel delivers a stellar performance with the same detail as the two brothers. This fine actor is great with utilizing his physical body as well as his voice, and combines it with razor-sharp comic timing.
Although she comes in at the very end of the play, Rebecca Jordon as the Mom steals much of the show with a flat monotone, almost catatonic delivery while Lee and Austin are quite literally trying to kill one another with her lines “Now don’t kill your brother Lee” as he is strangling Austin with a telephone cord while sprawled across the kitchen table gasping for air. The pieces of the puzzle of the two brother’s relationship with each other comes into focus when we see their mother and hear about the abuse of their alcoholic father.
Although this is Shephard’s first play, he does infuse a dark humor in it which helps drive it along. Otherwise, I really did not care about the brothers, or their plight, as none of the characters are even likeable. And I give full credit to the continued outstanding quality of Shattered Globe and Director James Yost (who is one of the finest directors in the Chicago theatre scene at present) for how well they pull this rather thin and difficult play off with such brilliance. Highly Recommended.
If you want to see acting at its finest do not miss the final few performances left of True West and help support one of Chicago’s finer classical theaters.
Thursday, October 20, 8 PM
Friday, October 21, 8 PM
Saturday, October 22, 3 PM and 8 PM
1229 W. Belmont Avenue
$35 general admission. Discounts: “Under 30” $20, students $15, seniors $28 and industry $15 on Thursdays. Tickets are currently available at www.theaterwit.org, in person at the Theater Wit Box Office or by calling (773) 975-8150
Photos: Michael Brosilow