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True West

By Sam Shepard

Directed by Gregg W. Brevoort

Lost Nation Theater
Montpelier, Vermont

 

the Times-Argus (Review #2)
Role-Switch Gives Lost Nation’s ‘True West’ New Humor

By Jim Lowe, Times-Argus Arts Editor

– “In community theater, it is nearly always essential to cast to type, but professionals revel in playing someone else – and here it worked beautifully”

MONTPELIER – Sam Shepard’s black comedy, “True West,” is essentially a two-man show and when the actors switch roles in Lost Nation Theater’s production of the comedy, it takes on quite a different flavor.

Actors Kim Bent and Jock MacDonald are both fine Vermont actors, and the two, as was done on Broadway, are switching roles on alternate evenings. And it’s fascinating to see them each in the same role – for they are very, very different.

“True West” is a nasty little tale of two brothers who envy one another to the point of virtual hatred. Austin is an established screenwriter with a wife and kids, while Lee is a drifter who spends most of the time alone on the desert and supports himself by stealing appliances from peoples’ homes.

Austin is at their mother’s home, while she is on a trip to Alaska, embarking on a new writing project, when Lee drops in. Lee begins harassing Austin, obviously envious of his success. When Austin’s producer, Saul Kimmer, visits, Lee tries to hone in, to get a piece of the pie. And Lee is such a hustler that he convinces Saul that he has a project that is better than Austin’s – and the roles are reversed.

What ensues is a fight – nearly to the death – between the brothers for domination. Only, a master of the black side of mankind like Shepard can see and, more importantly, convey the humor in this situation – which he does in spades.

On Jan. 25, The Times Argus reviewed the Jan. 24 preview performance in which Bent played Austin and MacDonald was Lee. At Friday’s performance, the roles were reversed, and the switch proved quite intriguing as well as funny. Of course, with a week of performances under their belt, everything was a bit tighter. Nevertheless, these two actors see the roles quite differently, though both approaches proved ultimately successful.

Bent’s Austin (Jan. 24) began as frustrated, hurt, then angry, while MacDonald’s (Feb. 1) was quieter, droll and more sarcastic before becoming losing it. On the other hand, MacDonald’s Lee was explosive before becoming frustrated and losing it, while Bent’s tended more to simmer to the boiling point.

If a choice had to be made, the latter seemed subtler and wittier. This was perhaps that the actors were cast against type. Bent, personally, is straight-as-an-arrow while MacDonald is decidedly the looser cannon (despite being a respectable husband, father and teacher). In community theater, it is nearly always essential to cast to type, but professionals revel in playing someone else – and here it worked beautifully.

As was said, the remainder of the production tightened up a bit since preview night. Richard Cianci’s Saul Kimmer seemed even more natural, while Sharry Underwood as the boys’ mother seemed even more lost and bewildered.

Either way, this is a delightful – though very black – comedy.

Lost Nation Theater continues its production of Sam Shepard’s black comedy, “True West,” through Feb. 10 at City Hall Arts Center, 39 Main St. in Montpelier. Performances are at 8 p.m. each day and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $21-$19, $18-$16 for students and seniors; call 229-0492.