Our local gem of a professional theater, convergence-continuum, usually produces obscure shows and does so brilliantly. Once a year, it selects a “classic” piece of theater, usually from the 20th century. This year, its season-ending production is Sam Shepard’s “True West.” Directed by Clyde Simon, the production is true to the intentions of the playwright, and shows that the script is just as relevant now as it was a third of a century ago when it was written.
“True West” is the story of two brothers. Very different in personality, their relationship is often hilarious, often tense. Shepard has the gift of writing just enough physical reality into the script that the bizarre circumstances are realistic and believable. It’s a tough line to maintain and puts a lot of responsibility on the director and actors.
In this case, director and performers succeed on all levels. Cliff Bailey is Lee, an oafish thief. When he is not robbing houses, he is living off the land in the California desert east of Los Angeles. Lee moves into his mother’s house – she’s on an extended trip to Alaska – with his seemingly “nicer” brother Austin. Austin taps away on his electric typewriter, creating a romantic script that may become a movie. He has an agent who has expressed interest.
With cunning and street smarts, Lee insinuates himself with the agent, Saul Kimmer. Robert Hawkes, bedecked in gold neck chains, has the perfect Los Angeles Agent look. Lee and Saul go golfing, leaving Austin at his typewriter. By the time they return, Saul has been sold on Lee’s story of the “true west,” in which two loners chase each other across the desert. Austin, frustrated he has lost his edge with the agent, gets drunk, and in a wonderful sequence of events goes on a burglary spree, stealing only toasters from an entire neighborhood. Geoffrey Hoffman as Austin understates the role for the first half of the show, and then busts out in a glorious drunken celebration of taking up Lee’s habits.
It’s a deep and ultimately scary relationship that the brothers share. Director Simon and the cast use the small space at Tremont’s Liminis Theatre on Scranton to great advantage. As often happens with the experienced and hip audience at the theater, the laughs are solid, frequent and hearty. There’s a lot more to the script than laughs, however. This “True West” also has the tense conflicts of the brothers set up as moments of motionless standoffs. These moments are equally successful. By the way, to complete the troubling scenario worthy of Sigmund Freud, frustrated Mom returns from Alaska to find her kitchen in shambles. Lucy Bredeson-Smith gets to play that wonderful moment.
“True West” runs weekends through Dec. 15. There are no Thursday performances for this production. Tickets are available at 216-687-0074.