Written by Patrick Chavis
The set comes straight out of a pristine 1980’s catalog. Its picture-perfect kitchen is immaculate, right down to the old stove. As a nostalgic symbol the kitchen appears to stand in for a sign of an America long since past. Just looking at it is like looking at a piece of history through rose-colored glasses. But as the story unfolds the kitchen, like the characters, transforms with the struggles and issues each individual has to deal with. In staying true to playwright Sam Shepard, Modjeska Playhouse’s version of True West pulls no punches in a heart wrenching display of emotions.
Aside from the fact that it’s set in California, True West has very little to do with the west. As you undoubtedly gathered, the story is set in a 1980’s kitchen. Like many Sam Shepard plays it does not leave that location.
Michael Kaye plays Austin –an up and coming screenwriter. The man is this close to breaking the deal of his career–but that would be too easy. So his brother Lee (played by Joshua Stecker) disrupts Austin’s life when he pops into their mother’s house in Hollywood. In contrast with Austin’s somewhat cushy situation, Lee is a drifter who has been living a hard life in the Mojave Desert. Tensions are already high because of the different lifestyles the brothers have chosen. Austin is the good boy who did everything you’re suppose to do – went to college, etc. Lee was the bad boy and did whatever he wanted. So when Lee gets the Hollywood writing deal Austin was supposed to receive, emotions erupt and the audience watches as the façades of these characters are ripped off –leaving nothing but chaos and ruin.
The show has huge dramatic shifts between Act 1 and Act 2, and it’s important to keep it as wide as possible to get the desired result. The challenge is in keeping the calm pacing during the first act without it being too calm. Though the energy was consistently malevolent from Joshua Stecker throughout the entire performance, Micheal Kayes as Austin in Act 1 is slightly too reserved in my opinion. However, it does lead to the desired result in the second act when both Kayes and Stecker are on point and bring their “A” game to this performance.
Still, I think the subtle performances need some more feeling and a better sense of what the person is going through. You can tell Austin is annoyed by his brother its in the dialogue, but you can’t see it on his face. It’s not really there in his voice. Then the second act comes and it’s so crystal clear. It’s powerful, and you feel it. Micheal Kaye’s imposing height and size brings out an interesting narrative in the story that is not necessarily in the text. But it’s about what we perceive and what is real because although Michael Kaye–being much larger–would be considered to have the advantage in an altercation, when people’s personalities come into play it’s a lot more complicated than that. As such, Joshua Stecker –though much smaller –does a fantastic job intimidating the much bigger man on stage.
They were only on stage for a short time but Richard Hutchinson (Saul Kimmer) and Harlene Miller (Mom) perform admirably and keep the flow of the story moving.
The play is thick with dialogue, long pauses and full of passion. Despite needing a little more gusto in the first act, I think director Joseph Alanes has not only done Sam Shepard right but has improved on the original source material.
Runs through August 27th
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