Fraternity and Foliage: “True West” Impresses with Caliber of Both Acting and Plant Life
If you’ve ever hoped to one day see a man get strangled, you totally just missed your chance. In our very own ’92 Theater, senior Zach Libresco’s small-cast, high-intensity production of Sam Shepard’s “True West” went up in a glorious blaze of Americana and domesticated ferns this past weekend.
Shepard’s drama details the complex relationship between Austin and Lee—two brothers whose lives have taken divergent paths—and the friction that results as they clash along the fault line of their mother’s need for a house sitter. Bennett Kirschner ’13 was the perfect straight-laced counterpart to senior Paulie Lowther’s obviously cooler ramblin’ man in this character-driven study of the coexisting love and hatred siblings can feel for one another.
The plot centers around Austin’s reactions to Lee encroaching on his personal space, security, and screenwriting ambitions. As time passes and layers of bitterness are shed, Austin and Lee find themselves bonding over their deadbeat father and their own propensity for the bottle while continuing to get under each other’s skins. These close quarters eventually drive the brothers to near insanity, the brink of which brings about the aforementioned strangling incident.
“True West” had everything a great piece of theater absolutely requires: jealousy, intrigue, estranged family members, crisp toast, beer, and an impressively biodiverse ecosystem of houseplants. A dynamite cast comprising Lowther, Kirschner, Richard Starzec ’14, and Tess Jonas ’15 tapped into the reservoir of hilarious antics and poignant moments that made “True West” such a spectacle, all while maintaining a crucial ratio of bizarre to believable.
This weekend’s production was an example of what happens when experienced actors are met with a director who knows how to optimize (read: exploit) their capabilities. Lowther and Kirschner played off of one another dynamically, fully embracing the chaos into which the show descends. A shirtless, beer-drenched Lowther smashing a typewriter with a golf club is an image indicative of the fact that these actors went all out.
While a pleasure to watch, by no means did the lead actors eclipse the performances of their supporting cast mates. Starzec’s unique take on the slick Hollywood producer trope provided a backboard of impeccably manicured sanity against which Lowther and Kirschner could venture into absolute weirdness. In a flurry of pastel and baby powder, Jonas shuffled on stage at the end of the show to assume the role of the brothers’ MILF we never knew about. The detachment with which she approached her role provided a stark contrast to the horrific and potentially fatal crimes the brothers committed against each other, and effectively dehumanized characters whose humanity had previously been so thoroughly examined throughout the play.
Libresco’s directorial prowess, multifaceted performances, and pleasantly verdant scenery set a pretty high bar for upcoming Second Stage productions. No matter whether future shows—such as next weekend’s much-anticipated “Shel’s Shorts”—match the dramatic quality of “True West,” at least directors can take solace in the foolproof success of potted greenery as a crowd pleaser.