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
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.