The friction between brothers has been a theme in literature since Cain and Abel. True West, the AtticRep production at the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, explores this relationship in a modern setting.
The siblings are as different as day and night. The thieving alcoholic Lee (Andrew Thornton) taunts his younger brother. The hardworking writer Austin (Rick Frederick) is taking care of their mother’s home while she is out of town. One has been vagabonding in the desert, the other is on the verge of success with a screenplay.
In the eyes of the movie producer in the play (Saul Kimmer, performed by Guy Schaafs), the brothers are not that different. As the play progresses, the siblings change identities and the rivalry increases. The role of the respectable family man and the drifting outcast are transposed. This reversal is such that the lead actors in the 2000 Broadway production switched parts every so often.
In this production, Thornton and Frederick reprise the roles they had in the 2008 AtticRep performance. AtticRep enjoyed a home at Trinity University since 2005 until increased interest in campus theater forced them to seek a new home. Fortunately, this was about the same time the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater at the Tobin was created – a perfect spot for the repertory company.
The Studio Theater is a far cry from the Lilliputian black box above the Ruth Taylor Fine Arts Center at Trinity – and artistic director Roberto Prestigiacomo loves it.
“It’s a real theater,” he said, “larger and more versatile.”
Though playwright Sam Shepard was born in Illinois, his characters in True West resonate with citizens of Texas. Shepard put the “fun” in “dysfunctional” throughout his Family Trilogy (which may also include Curse of the Starving Class and Buried Child).
This is one of Shepard’s most antic plays – and his most atrocious. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author strips the tinsel from Tinseltown, the fable from the American frontier, and the delusions from our dreams.
This play is an outside view of physical and psychological developments and changes. The set and the relationship between the brothers in True West de-evolves rapidly until mayhem reigns. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, Mom (Rita Crosby) arrives.
The lighting, the set, and the blocking of banter between brothers is captivating, comic and tragic.
David Connelly, director of True West, said there is no set response to the viewer’s reaction.
“The audience is the final character in the play,” he said.
True West will run until Feb. 8. More information and tickets are available at the Tobin Center’s website www.tobincenter.org.
*Featured/top image: In AtticRep’s production of True West Saul Kimmer (portrayed by Guy Schaafs) referees the sibling’s rivalry. Courtesy photo by Siggi Ragnar.
Note: Freelance writer Don Mathis contributed to this review.