‘True West’ gets wild in Lauderdale
Sam Shepard has a lot to say below the surface
There is a line, right before intermission and uttered in a conspiratorial tone by thuggish older brother Lee to his erudite sibling, Austin, that gets right to what the late Sam Shepard is saying in “True West.”
“The one who i s chasing doesn’t know where the other one is taking him, and the one being chased doesn’t know where he’s going,” Lee says, summing up a script he’d like Austin, a screenwriter, to help him bang out.
At a question-and-answer session, a feature of the Sunday matinees of this staging by Fort Lauderdale’s New City Players, the actor playing Lee got right down to it.
“It’s just a metaphor for the play,” said Timothy Mark Davis, who is also the producing artistic director of New City Players, before affecting the same conspiratorial tone and adding, “It’s [Shepard] sneaking in a little, ‘This is about the play.’ ”
That’s a good thing, because while Shepard’s play seems straightforward on the surface, just below the veneer it’s actually a wild, loose and often frustrating roil of styles, textures and rhythms — natural realism that gives way to something approaching absurd- Timothy Mark Davis and Andrew Paul Davis in New City Player’s production of “True West,” playing through Aug. 27 at the Vanguard Sanctuary for the Arts in Fort Lauderdale. ism, language that is plainly ragged in one passage and concisely insightful in the next. The theme of double nature, that people can have two sides and fissures that run deep, comes to light in this dark comedy when the brothers find themselves facing off at their mother’s house on the suburban edge of the California desert.
It’s 1980, and Austin (played by Andrew Paul Davis, who is Timothy’s real-life brother) has escaped the distractions of Los Angeles and his family to finish a lovestory script while house-sitting for his mom (played in a fleeting appearance by Lory Reyes), who is vacationing in Alaska. Lee has shown up, presumably with no advance notice, after living in the desert, much like the brothers’ unseen, hapless alcoholic of a father.
Lee, a bully and a low-level thief (boosting TV sets from neighbors), swigs beer after beer be- tween prickly exchanges with Austin, who is desperate to get rid of him long enough to take a meeting with movie producer Saul ( John Holley). Lee hijacks Austin’s plans, wrangling his own “meeting” with Saul on the golf course to pitch his own script, a modern-day Western.
But it is Austin who has the college education and the wherewithal to actually write a script. Lee’s frustrating attempts devolve into whacking the typewriter — remember, it’s 1980 — into smithereens with a golf club. But Saul’s interest in Lee’s script is enough to derail Austin, who resorts to burglary. Saul has unintentionally pulled the rung out from underneath both brothers with the hope of success in Lee and the humiliation of failure with Austin — so much so that their very identities become unmoored.
“He thinks we’re the same person,” Austin says of Saul, almost as if he is realizing this as the words come out of his mouth. Everything whirls out of control into a crazy place where the brothers — Austin attracted to Lee’s life of adventure, and Lee coveting Austin’s security — are turned inside out, along with Mom’s previously pristine kitchen.
It’s hard to keep it all on track, but director Mary Elizabeth Gundlach has done a credible job keeping all the dualities in balance: art and business, stability and freedom, Old West and New West. The rhetoric comes close to getting away from them in the second act, when the action has to ramp up to a WTF level. Somehow, although it’s hard to remember exactly where and when in retrospect, the production, which runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission, needs a few moments of silence and stillness to give the actors room for the nimble psychological moves they have to go through to get there.
But get there they do, even if you wish this fractured tale took a little more care with the nihilistic slapstick contrasted with the sad rootlessness as the brothers chase something elusive, something “True West.”
Lory Reyes (as Austin’s Mom) and Timothy Mark Davis (as Lee) in New City Player’s production of “True West.”