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True West

By Sam Shepard

Directed by Gregg W. Brevoort

Lost Nation Theater
Montpelier, Vermont

 

the Times-Argus (Review #1)
Lost Nation’s ‘True West’ viciously funny

By Jim Lowe, Times-Argus Arts Editor

– “Lost Nation’s production, directed by Gregg W. Brevoort, thoroughly enjoys Shepard’s delicious viciousness, and the characters’ hilariously uncomfortable interaction”

MONTPELIER – Sam Shepard’s “True West” can be hilariously funny but it sure isn’t nice. And Lost Nation Theater’s professional production, which opened Thursday at City Hall Arts Center, seeks out every deliciously nasty moment.

Shepard’s plays are said to be marked by wild humor, grotesque satire, myth, and the sparse haunting language of Western movies in evoking an off-kilter subversive view of America. In that vein, “True West” offers Shepard’s unique view of the Bible’s story of Abel and Cain.

Austin and Lee are brothers: Austin is an up-and-coming Hollywood screenwriter; Lee is a ne’er-do-well who can’t function in society and pilfers houses and lives in the desert to survive. Austin is using his mother’s southern California home, while she is vacationing in Alaska, to get away from his family to work on a new project.

When Lee decides to drop in, though, all concentration is lost. Lee envies his successful brother and does all he can to make Austin miserable, irritating him, making fun of his straight-laced nature. Austin’s envy for Lee’s freedom becomes clear when he falls apart with defensiveness attempting to deal with his bother’s jibes.

Everything completely falls apart when Lee moves in on Austin’s project, stealing the loyalty of Austin’s producer with his hustling and braggadocio. Lee’s success is sweet at first, then bitter as he realizes he can’t do it without Austin. All the while, Austin is breaking loose from the shackles of respectability with equally unattractive results. In short, both characters disintegrate.

Shepard himself describes the play as a battle between the two sides in all of us. Conversely, it reveals our inability to function outside the parameters of our own character. What makes “True West” poignant – and funny – is that it strips naked our basest emotions and throws them in our face (though lust doesn’t play a real role in this particular tale).

Lost Nation’s production, directed by Gregg W. Brevoort of New York, thoroughly enjoys Shepard’s delicious viciousness, and the characters’ hilariously uncomfortable interaction. This is essentially a two-man play, and Kim Bent, Lost Nation co-artistic director, and Middlesex actor Jock MacDonald will be trading the roles on alternating evenings, as was done on Broadway.

At Thursday’s preview performance, Bent made Austin quite real, truly exasperated with his brother’s antics. But he was even more convincing as Austin began to fall apart, get drunk, and finally self-destruct. MacDonald seemed dangerously typecast as Lee, as he swaggered his way into Austin’s life, destroying everything in his wake – and finally himself.

At Thursday’s preview performance, some of the timing was a bit off, and there were a few noticeably muffed lines, but these are two fine actors, and watching them interact is a heady experience. (Tonight, MacDonald will play Austin, and Bent will be Lee; it should prove interesting.)

Richard Cianci as Saul Kimmer was a delightful caricature of Hollywood movie producer. And Sharry Underwood proved quite convincing as the brothers’ frail and somewhat out-of-it mother.

Kevin Kelley’s set was realistic, attractive and quite effective, except when its expansiveness seemed to diffuse the drama. Appropriate costuming by Cora Fauser contributed to this polished production.

Lost Nation’s “True West” proved intense, but rewarding theater.

Lost Nation Theater presents a professional production of Sam Shepard’s comedy, “True West,” tonight-Feb. 10, at City Hall Arts Center, 39 Main St. in Montpelier. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 6:30 p.m., and a 2 p.m. matinee, Saturday, Jan. 26. Tickets are $21, $18 for students and seniors, $19 and $16 on Thursdays, and $15 and $13 for the matinee; call 229-0492.