True West Review – Coyotes and Crickets

Johnny Clark and Andrew Hawkes in TRUE WEST - Photo by Carlos R. Hernandez

From the playwright who won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for “Buried Child,” TRUE WEST is but one of Sam Shepard’s award-winning plays. A character study that examines the relationship between two brothers, so very different and yet so much the same, TRUE WEST was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1983. After its premiere at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, TRUE WEST moved off-Broadway in 1980, where it continued for 762 performances. A television movie followed in 1984, with TRUE WEST finally reaching Broadway in 2000. TRUE WEST became a film in 2002 and has been performed internationally since the 1980’s.

Johnny Clark and Andrew Hawkes in TRUE WEST – Photo by Carlos R. Hernandez

Clearly, Shepard struck a chord with his dissection of the duality inherent in most of us. Shepard had some definite ideas about TRUE WEST: “I wanted to write a play about double nature, one that wouldn’t be symbolic or metaphorical or any of that stuff…wanted to give a taste of what it feels like to be two-sided…a real thing…I think we’re split in a much more devastating way than psychology can ever reveal…it’s something we’ve got to live with.” Since its debut, TRUE WEST has been a favorite in the male acting community and has been interpreted by many of the most well-known actors of the day.

Austin (Johnny Clark) is a pleasant man who had led a classically traditional life, never rocking the boat and always hoping for “the big break.” When called upon to housesit for his mother while she journeys to Alaska, he looks forward to the alone time in California’s Inland Empire desert so that he can pursue his latest writing project, a project that has already drawn the attention of show biz VIP Saul (David Starzyk). Just as he can taste imminent success, who should reappear after a hiatus of five years but his brother Lee (Andrew Hawkes)? An inveterate thief and casual psychopath, Lee strong arms his way into Austin’s quiet life with a vengeance. Soon Lee manages to charm his way into Saul’s good graces, and Austin’s dreams are suddenly in shambles. When mom (Carole Goldman) comes home unexpectedly, what will she find in her cozy corner of the world? Will role reversals be the result?

TRUE WEST is truly an acting dream for leads Clark and Hawkes, and they take full advantage of the opportunity. With gripping intensity, they run the gamut of emotions – as well as the gamut of physicality – as the tale progresses. Cameo performances by Goldman and Starzyk are right on the money. Director Scott Cummins takes full advantage of the powerful play and talented cast as he leads the brothers from apathy and fear to full-out aggression with the able assistance of violence designer Ned Mochel. Soon production designer Danny Cistone’s set becomes the epicenter of the tornado unleashed by two men who hate – and yet envy – the other. AUDIENCE ALERT: Violence is part and parcel of this penetrating look at two men on the brink of destruction.

TRUE WEST runs through August 31, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Vs. Theatre is located at 5453 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Tickets are $20. For information and reservations, go online.

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