True West is a classic well-made play with a twist. The story follows two brothers with polar opposite ideas of the American dream, masculinity and their efforts to mold their own identities.
Lee (Thomas Larkin), a man who has just spent three months in the desert away from his usual career as a burglar, bursts in on his brother Austin (Julian Curtis) at their mother (Christen O’Leary)’s house in California. Austin’s plans to housesit for his mother while she is in Alaska and complete his screenplay for Hollywood producer Saul (Charles Allen) are quickly dashed to pieces. With this disruption of order and comfort, the two brothers stand together in the kitchen-living room layout for the production’s duration, facing the realities of their desire for the other’s life.
Not only does Lee burst into Austin’s settled routine in their mother’s home, he also threatens to disrupt Austin’s comfortable career when he presents a story that surpasses Austin’s love story in Saul’s eyes. Sam Shepherd’s construction of the two brothers is complex and loaded with conflict. The siblings are equally as flawed and uneasy with their current lives, and subsequently equally as stubborn and antagonistic towards one another. As initial frustrations and profanities are forced out and the men are given a true chance to stew in jealousy and bargaining, the complexity of their loving, hating, supporting, and harassing relationship truly begins to show. Curtis and Larkin are captivating and shocking; in presence, delivery and dynamic the two actors share an instinctual balance that serves each of their respective characters. The pair truly are a duo, strengthened by the other’s presence and persistence, and weakened by their blood-line connection. Curtis is sharp, quick and feisty with his words and deliveries, while Larkin presents himself with a grounded, gritty and guttural presence. There are segments filled with rage, violence, and tears, and other moments that call for silence and softness. The pair work hard to pull off these moments seamlessly, which is particularly impressive when the text demands a snap from one extreme to the other.
With the intrusion of Saul and their mother into this complicated brotherly relationship, a third character who watches on and offers little to no support enters into the plot. This external perspective from both Allen in the play’s simmering beginnings, and O’Leary at the works’ erupted end is a welcome reminder of the audience’s perspective, as if our responses of intrigue, caution, fear and horror were all splayed out in front of us by the two actors. While the parts are considerably secondary in comparison to the two brothers, Allen and O’Leary maintain a sense of distance from the chaotic cycles of the relationship between Lee and Austin with control and style. Allen’s lid over Saul’s frustration is engaging, and O’Leary’s quivery yet confident voice of the men’s mother demands attention when needed and fades away with her exit.
The production’s design plays with the initial kitchen-sink drama appearance of the work as a foundation, and just as the work twists and shocks the audience, the design also transforms the space into an entirely new environment. Genevieve Ganner’s initially dry and drab browns and yellows of the set are eventually overturned and rearranged, then overpowered by Jason Glenwright’s lighting design. The setting and design simultaneously transition from realistic and atmospheric to a presence that powers over the space and enhances the sense of danger. Dane Alexander’s sound design is equally as influential over the space; from crickets subtly filling the audience and characters’ ears to a playful and often ironic country and western playlist that layers on top of scene transitions which push time forward, develop characters and help the setting develop and expand.
Director Marcel Dorney controls the pace and power of the characters and language so effectively that the interval’s fast and sudden arrival at the 45 minute mark is unexpected. Beneath all of the conflict, complex relationship dynamics, and design considerations, the text’s elegant, powerful and impactful language shines through. This production, with all of its humor, heart, pain and shock skyrockets to be one of the best of Brisbane’s theatre scene this year.
– Written by Rhumer Diball August 18th 2016
TRUE WEST PRESENTED BY BRISBANE POWERHOUSE.
THURS AUG 18 – SUN AUG 20 2016.
Photo credit Vlad Da Cunha.