While there are some real moments of brilliance in the latest Playhouse Theatre production, True West, from both leads Vincent Gale (Austin) and Brian Markinson (Lee), this tale of (extreme) sibling rivalry is also host to supporting roles that are caricatures which don’t ring true.
And because this is such a play of/for actors, unless the players can sustain this brilliance for the full 90 minutes it is bound to come up short each and every time. Fortunately for us the two leads manage, for the most part, to sustain the intensity necessary to carry us to the end.
House-sitting for his Mom while she is in Alaska, son Austin has escaped his wife and family to work on his first screenplay. Visited by his petty criminal brother Lee, looking for a little larceny in his Mom’s suburbs, the two brothers’ animosity and jealousy towards each other soon boils over.
Through what Austin sees as a con, Lee manages to convince movie producer Saul Kimmer (Alec Willows) that his idea for a “true-to-life Western” has merit over Austin’s story. With Austin believing Lee has tricked Saul into backing his story, Lee is forced to try to write the screenplay without Austin’s assistance while Austin takes up Lee’s world of petty theft.
It is at this point, where the two brothers essentially switch lives, where the show really takes off. Playwright Sam Shepard described the play himself as a battle between the two sides in all of us and it is when the brothers begin to walk in each other’s shoes that this idea comes into full view for the audience.
By the end of the play, the two brothers have consumed enough alcohol that would have put any real man in hospital, have almost killed each other and have ruined their Mom’s home including the plants she missed so much that she returned early from her vacation.
While the play would probably be considered a two-man show, it is appearance of the ancillary characters (the movie producer and the Mom) that are a little off-putting and one has to wonder why Shepard even bothered having them actually making an appearance. Fortunately though these appearances are short and we can get back the real action between Lee and Austin.
On a side note, True West marks the final production for outgoing Artistic Director, Glynis Leyshon. Leyshon bid a tearful goodbye to the opening night audience and received a well-deserved standing ovation (at last, a standing ovation that is deserved) for her eleven years as the artistic guide to the Playhouse. Leyshon has taken some heat over the years for her choices but one cannot fault her for her passion and love of theatre in all its forms. She will be missed.