Stuart Hughes & Mike Ross. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Reviewed by James Karas
For its second production for 2013, Soulpepper offers Sam Shepard’s True West. The play moves on several levels from seething sibling rivalry to a debunking of the American dream. The production, directed by Nancy Palk is reasonably successful but there are some things that simply did not work.
Brothers Lee (Stuart Hughes) and Austin (Mike Ross) find themselves in their mother’s house in Southern California. They have not seen each other for some time and with their mother away in Alaska, the stage is set for a psychological and physical confrontation between the two.
Austin is an Ivy League-educated screenplay writer. He is reserved and civilized, one would say, as he anxiously proceeds with his work. He wants to show a script to Saul (Ari Cohen), a Hollywood producer.
Lee is the opposite. He is a petty thief who lives in the desert and immediately starts casing the houses in the neighborhood for burglaries. He is a loud and uncouth drunkard.
Lee does have a literary imagination of sorts and his wild and improbable story about people chasing each other across the plains of Texas captures the imagination of Saul. Lee trumps his brother by getting a contract for his wild idea and Saul asks Austin to turn that idea into a script.
The transformation of the brothers continues as details about the story are developed and we learn about the fate of their father. The final result is an eruption of murderous violence.
Ross and Hughes do well in their characterization of the very different men that they represent and in presenting the transformation of each to the extent that the brothers take on the persona of the other. Were they the same all along and did the veneer of education cover up Austin’s real character? One may well ask.
What was missing from the production was the humour. Lee has a raw, violent humour and Hughes did not do a very good job in making us roar with laughter.
Patricia Hamilton appears as the mother near the end of the play. Is the part badly written, or was she just delivering her lines a bit too matter-of-factly?
Director Nancy Palk pays attention to all the details of the play from the background sound of the coyotes and crickets to the actors’ reactions. The only complaint is, again, about the humour not coming out as well as it could have.
Ari Cohen does a good job as the producer who represents the shallowness of American mass culture – give them any garbage or perhaps only garbage and they will eat it up.
The set is an ordinary suburban kitchen. Lee brings a hefty number of toasters in one of his nightly tours of the neighborhood and he decides to make toast using his entire haul. How he manages to connect all of those toasters must be filed under willing suspension of disbelief.
True West by Sam Shepard opened on April 3 and will run until May 4, 2013 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Distillery District, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 944-1740