Monday, 4 November 2013

True West

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
The cricket chirrups and increasingly loud coyote howls that punctuate 
this all too rare revival of Sam Shepard's 1980 trawl through the dark 
heart of America may sound real in Phillip Breen's production. In the 
end, however, as Max Breen's cinema-scope design makes clear, we all 
know it's as make-believe as a movie. The quest for authenticity is 
what drives Eugene O'Hare's bookish Austin, who, on the verge of a 
life-changing deal, has holed himself up in his mother's place, tapping 
out an old-time love story in suburban bliss.

Austin's world is turned upside down when his deranged petty thief 
brother Lee turns up out of the blue from his desert hidey-hole. Where 
Austin peddles implausible dreams on the page, Lee's manic, 
booze-soaked stories of a wilder world beyond convinces Steven Elliot's 
hustler producer Saul to take a chance on his pop-eyed take on 
blockbuster sensationalism over art.  As the brothers' roles are 
reversed in increasingly manic fashion, the veneer of civilisation 
itself seems to collapse in on them as the domestic shell they're 
occupying is smashed to pieces.

Originally produced at a time when the excesses of the 1960s-sired 
generation of maverick film directors were about to be reined in and 
horse-traded for something more formulaic, Shepard's play is  now a 
period piece from a pre laptop, pre YouTube age where even the most 
independent auteur was working for the man. With explicit nods to 
familial dysfunction via an absent father, Shepard's text is also shot 
through with the myth-making extremes of Greek tragedy.

It's a relentless and increasingly demented ride, with Alex Ferns 
driving the action as Lee with a ferocity which, when matched by 
Austin's toaster-stealing routine as Lee batters the typewriter into 
submission with a golf-club, looks like a wilfully absurdist parody. 
Even their Mom, played by Barbara Rafferty with resigned whey-faced 
acceptance, can't tell what's real anymore. As the two men square up to 
each other while the stage fades to black, the call of the wild beyond 
the fake four walls that bind them both may save them yet.

The Herald, November 4th 2013

ends

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