“True West” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – May 26, 2024

EXCELLENT PRODUCTION OF SHEPARD’S “TRUE WEST” IS A CHALLENGE TO WATCH

“True West”
Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Tempe Center for the Arts
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

“True West” is a gritty and murky play that looks at the shaky relationship between two very different brothers but reveals that even diverse people can search for similar things including stability and acceptance. A fine Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) production introduces two superb actors as the pivotal siblings.  Couple these rich performances with Jenn Thompson’s sharp staging and a superlative production is the result.  Be warned, though, that this two-hour piece is a real downer.

One brother, Austin, is a successful movie script writer with a wife and kids who is house sitting his mother’s home while she journeys to Alaska.  His wayward brother, Lee, shows up after looking without success for a better life on an extended desert stay.  The two spar and Lee decides he can also create a screenplay. By the second act, the pair have almost switched places with Austin drinking up a storm as Lee attempts to craft his movie.  By the end, one of the pair is almost dead.

It’s a gruesome scenario that isn’t fun to watch even though playwright Sam Shepard crafted two ever-changing and complex people.  Shepard also manages to create bits of humor between the pair. Since its 1981 London premiere, many leading actors have portrayed the brothers including John Malkovich and Gary Sinise plus contemporary performers like Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly.

Austin’s Hollywood arranger makes an appearance as he becomes obsessed with Lee’s weird cowboy drama.  The brothers’ mother appears briefly only to quickly escape the mayhem the two siblings have created.

One can’t fault the ATC production which is always sharp and brusque. Rhett Guter is a stalwart and committed Austin initially only to crash and burn later when the pair almost switch places.  Zack Fine is a rough/tough Lee who almost decides to settle down and try to write his unusual Western because it might lead to big bucks.  Geoffrey Wade is the easily changeable movie magnet and Amelia White is their stable but not very understanding Mom.

Unlike other ATC productions, audience response was much more subdued because “True West” is a challenging play to watch as neither brother is even remotely likable.  The play says misunderstandings and opposites approaches to life can be challenging. Puzzling?  Prepare yourself for a maudlin display of extreme temperament.

True West” continues through June 9 at the Tempe Center for the Arts.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 833-ATC-SEAT or ordered online at www.atc.org.

Grade: A