‘True West’ gets wild in Laud­erdale

Sam Shep­ard has a lot to say be­low the sur­face

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - ON STAGE - By Rod Stafford Hag­wood

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.”

PHO­TOS BY RYAN ARNST/COUR­TESY

NewCi­tyPlay­ers.org.

Lory Reyes (as Austin’s Mom) and Ti­mothy Mark Davis (as Lee) in New City Player’s pro­duc­tion of “True West.”

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