Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 17, 2009

True West

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
runs through July 26, 2009
by Jarice Hanson

When Sam Shepard's "True West" debuted in 1980, it signaled a shift from the playwright's earlier absurdist work toward a more realistic style. In the Williamstown Theatre Festival's production, the genius of Shepard proves to be timeless.

"True West" is a fable of brothers who represent archetypes of the hero and shadow, as well as a metaphor for the greed, corruption, and violence of the west -- this time set in a small suburban house 40 miles from Los Angeles. Nate Corddry, in his eighth Williamstown season, plays Austin, a screenwriter who has successfully pitched a romantic film treatment to Hollywood, and has now holed up in his mother's home to write the script while she's vacationing in Alaska. When Paul Sparks as Lee, the ne'er-do-well brother shows up, he pitches a ridiculous western to Austin's obsequious agent (flamboyantly played by Stephen Kunken) and the tables begin to turn. Debra Jo Rupp's cameo as mom showcases her control and comic timing, and adds to the understanding of how two brothers could be so different, yet so similar.

The show really belongs to Corddry and Sparks, who take sibling rivalry and contemporary ideas of manhood to extremes. On opening night, a few lines were rocky, and Sparks' words were muffled in the early part of the play, but this is the type of show that will undoubtedly grow as these two actors find a brotherly bond necessary to heighten the tension of Shepard's verbal intensity. Some of the funniest moments belong to Sparks who drinks beer with a straw, and uses a golf club for great comic effect.

Director Daniel Goldstein has created a wonderful set that honors Shepard's realistic, absurdist, and experimental modes, and has found the intelligence in this powerful comment on contemporary life.