Pittsburgh Theatre Review: Pittsburgh Public's True West

As part of it's Masterpiece Season, Pittsburgh Public Theater's current show, True West, doesn't disappoint as a showcase of contemporary (read: 1970's) American drama. Written by Sam Shepard, this classic black comedy goes beyond a mere tale of sibling rivalry, but delves further, exploring two extreme opposing personalities and presences. Austin is the straight-and-narrow type: a family man has a promising screenwriting career, and is in hot pursuit of his big break. Being the responsible and dependable type (what  successful Ivy league graduate isn't?), when the curtains open, we see that Austin is house sitting for his mother while she is on a trip to Alaska. His brother, Lee - the yin to his yang - pops up out of nowhere, to swindle, and steal - and generally complicate matters for his brother. Lee is unpredictable, a drunk, and a thief. He has no ties - family, financial, or otherwise - and is prone to full-blown, adult- tantrums. 
David Mogentale (Lee) and Ken Barnett (Austin) in an old fashioned draw.
And what happens when two opposing forces collide? Oh, I'll tell you what. Each exerts a pushing force on the other, a force that will be exactly the same from both sides - but in exactly opposite directions of one another (thanks, Big Bang Theory!). This could be one of Newton's laws, but it also is an accurate description of the plot in True West. Put the two opposing brotherly forces in the same house, and you're going to get a lot of exertion of forces - both equally as strong, in their own unique way. Lee even references it, "What kinda people kill each other most?! Family people. Brothers."  Everything from their language and mannerisms to their  physical presences are solid in an of themselves - and couldn't be more different from one another. Lee manages to steal Austin's screenwriting gig right from underneath him, catapulting a personality shift: suddenly Lee is the one trying to concentrate on his "art", and Austin is the distractor and thief- stealing toasters and then making some a whole loaf of toast. 

Pittsburgh Public has truly brought the best to Pittsburgh for this play. David Mogentale's Lee is fantastic (a clear result of his broadway experience with the show) - raw and unapologetic, he is in- your-FACE. An utter mess of a man pretending to be satisfied with his unpredictable and mooching lifestyle.  Ken Barnett (Austin) is just as strong in his own right. Sure, playing the simple, dependable one may seem hum drum at first, but when personalities switch, Barnett is a comedic delight. The toast scene (imagining the "many unhappy, bewildered breakfast faces") was, by far, my absolute favorite. True West is a play that largely depends on chemistry between the two brothers - the audience must believe that there is a dark and tumultuous past between them. Barnett and Mogentale accomplish this - largely because the sheer physicality each brings to their respective role is at such a high - yet equal - level to it's opposite. It doesn't hurt that they have a spot-on set in which to cultivate their craft. The set, from the atrocious floral wallpaper to the groovy refrigerator color, takes the audience back in time to a 70's kitchen just outside of Los Angeles, California. 

True West explores various levels of what happens when opposing forces meet on a landscape reminiscent of an old Western gunfight. Beginnings and endings, crickets and coyotes, stable and unstable, the American dreams and  many Americans' reality, success and failure, right and wrong.  Shepard explores each, asking what the audience holds dearest - and evaluating whether or not that sentiment is well-placed.

(fun fact: I keep wanting to write "True Grit" instead of "True West." As it happens, True Grit would be an apropos title for this play, as well.)

True West is at the O'Reilly Theater from now until December 8th. For ticket information and more details, visit the Pittsburgh Public Theater website - and enjoy the show!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to say that this play was gripping and required all of my attention, not knowing what would come next! I really enjoyed it in a different way than I have enjoyed other plays.