Left - Nicholas Garsden. Cover - Nicholas Garsden and Renato Musolino. Photos - Shane Reid
True West is a bleak and dramatic expose of the human psyche, an expose that is at the same time very real and yet extremely surreal. This play is brilliant and full of contradictions.
David Mealor has directed with a deft hand making the most of Sam Shepard’s script. Kathryn Sproul has designed a set that accentuates the duality with a kitchen setting that is both oddly familiar and yet also uninviting, most appropriately laying the foundation for the play.
Double entendres are rife as playwright Shepard shines an unrelenting light on a dysfunctional American family. This is no amusing Simpsons satire. It is more edgy, an expose of families in American society, somewhat like Sam Mendes’ 1999 the film American Beauty. In True West the relationship of two brothers is stripped and laid bare in the cold light of day as they meet in their mother’s kitchen recall past memories, relive old rivalries and reinforce well-worn patterns of behaviour. Sentiment does not play a part. The human psyche is revealed in an icy reality relieved only by the comforting smell of toast..
The trouble with the cold truths is that they are often unpalatable. This play is not softened with any warmth, except perhaps towards the end. The result is that neither brother, at first, is particularly likeable. The lack of warmth means that the play is in danger of alienating the audience. A thread of “who care’s” runs through the first half of this play.
On opening night more warmth seems to exist for the actors playing the parts, than for the characters themselves. The actors are brilliant.
Nick Garsden is outstanding as the brash bully Lee who turns up in kitchen where his brother is housesitting for their mother. Garsden sinks his teeth into this role and is mesmerizing and menacing, sometimes revealing an incongruous empathetic side to Lee’s nature and yet never losing his edginess.
Renato Musolino is equally powerful as the unsuspecting Austin who unravels as he falls victim to his con-man brother. Musolino brilliantly portrays Austin’s disintegration and the ensuing role reversal.
Never has a brotherly bond seemed so uncomfortably familiar and yet so strangely alien as the sibling rivalry cracks the façade in this familial setting.
Geoff Revell adeptly steps into the thrust and parry and provides some welcome relief as Saul, while Chrissie Page doesn’t quite rise to the occasion as the absurd mother who finally enters this testosterone-riddled kitchen.
This is uncomfortable and yet compelling theatre. As playwright Shepard is quoted as saying, "it's one of the great tragedies of our contemporary life in America, that families fall apart. Almost everybody has that in common."
Flying Penguin Productions
by Sam Shepard
Venue: Holden St Theatres, The Studio | 34 Holden St Hindmarsh (Next to the Soccer Stadium)
Dates: 30 April – 16 May, 2009
Tickets: Adult $28 Concession $18 Fringe Benefits $20 Previews April 30, May 1 All Tickets $17
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or VENUETIX 8225 8888