Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., April 12, 2002
True West: It's a Guy ThingDougherty Arts Center,
through April 14
Running Time: 2 hrs
Boys will be boys -- especially if they're brothers. Especially, we might add, if they're written by Sam Shepard. We might even want to double that if those brothers are portrayed on stage by full-grown boys JC Shakespeare and Guy Forsyth, which they are, in this very first show from 4th & 1 Productions.
Brother Austin (Shakespeare) is a Hollywood screenwriter with a cushy life, has a wife and kids waiting for him up north; brother Lee (Forsyth) is a larcenous drifter who doesn't play well with others and spends a lot of time holed up somewhere in the Mojave Desert. These guys, whose differing orbits never completely remove them from the gravity of their alcoholic fuck-up of a father, meet in the bright clean kitchen of their mother's house where Austin is holding down the fort while Mom goes on a cruise to Alaska. Testosterone ensues.
Jeff Cunningham has designed a highly realistic kitchen for the play, a kitchen increasingly trashed by the rivaling sibs as they confront each other over their life choices, their relationship with the wastoid patriarch, and various real or imagined antagonisms. The kitchen's almost as solid as the script, which is strong and wild and even funny at times, the characters and their situations veering toward humor almost as often as they head into passion and violence.
Austin's not violent, though; not initially, anyway: He's a domesticated movie scribe, and Shakespeare brings this out with skillful nonchalance, acting up a portrait of learned mildness. Lee's the violent one, the predator looking for the weak spots, constantly working more angles than his rockabilly sideburns, and Forsyth has this sucker down colder than a bottle of Shiner in an igloo. This sets the audience up for the transfer of powers that occurs when the visiting movie producer, who's going to back Austin's newest project, decides instead -- due to any number of random movie-producer motivations -- to produce the wild chase fantasy Lee's dictated to his brother the night before. Peter Malof plays Saul-the-producer to the Hollywood hilt, all glad-handedly self-directed and as brightly surfaced as Corian, his annoying laugh (brought out, we assume, by director Kim Travis) is just short of incredible and a kind of character unto itself.
Director Travis brings out more than a laugh, though: She's got a lot of action swirling around a small kitchen's dining table, and she moves it very capably, whether it's Austin's compulsive cleaning, Lee's incessant raids on the fridge, or the two of them seeing who has the bigger can of whup-ass. The segues between scenes are especially fine, with the actors in place and silently working their in-character business before the set's changes are fully wrought, before Robyn Greer's light design brightens to visibility. Travis could have wrought Shakespeare a bit more fully in the second half of the show, too, had him invest Austin's newfound (and eventually whiskey-fueled) anger with more than a louder voice and narrowed eyes. (Or maybe that's a matter of acting, because when Forsyth is ramping Lee into his several furies, it's a complete transformation: like someone's cut open a bag of rattlesnakes in the man's gut.)
There is more, of course, to the Male Condition -- or to brotherly entwinement -- than is dreamt of in this philosophy. But when it concerns what's implied by "boys being boys," when it's also a meditation on what's become of whatever the Spirit of the American West may have been, this is one of the ways in which it's best evoked. And this offering from 4th &1 does (ha-a-a-awk, ptui!) a damned fine job of it.
Note: Ken Bradley takes over for Guy Forsyth for the final week.