February 5, 2019
When the diminutive, elderly mother (a splendidly deadpan Marylouise Burke)
walks into the disaster area once known as her kitchen, she puts down her two
red suitcases and greets her sons before even asking about the destruction.
That’s pretty much the logic that follows--or not – in much True West, Sam Shepard’s play on a brotherly tug-of war. At once depressing and manic, Ethan Hawke (Lee) and
Paul Dano (Austin) dance their Argentinean tango of childhood jealousies and
adult animosities hooking legs and chest slams.
Quietly typing at the kitchen table, next to a burning candle, Austin’s serenity is sorely
challenged by his vagabond brother. Draped over the kitchen counter, with a
pack of beers strung around his finger, Lee leers at his brother and demands the
car keys. Clearly a person who lives on the fringes of acceptable society, Lee
developed his wits and trades in minor thefts while Austin snared an Ivy League
education. The good boy, bad boy syndrome takes a radical turn when a
producer arrives to discuss a screen project with Austin only to reverse course
and agree to produce Ethan’s clichéd cowboy film concept.
By the second act, both are in a state of agitation. Intent on proving he can buddy
up with Lee and roam the desert, Austin accepts Lee’s challenge to steal toasters
from all the neighborhood homes. This leads to some of the funniest scenes I’ve
ever seen in a True West production. From the moment everyone witnesses a
half dozen toasters parked throughout the kitchen—the ludicrousness escalates.
While Lee attempts to type his script with one finger, Austin ricochets from one
toaster to another as bread pops up in time for him to catch, butter and pile it on a
stack of toast resembling the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Volcanic explosions knock the
two brothers throughout the house, crashing over every piece of furniture until
their childish rivalry rolls right in front of ---their clueless mother.
Roundabout Theater’s production of True West excels on the strength of its casting and
radiant direction by James Macdonald.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis