By SAM SHEPARD
Bernie West Theatre (in Baruch College), 17 Lexington Avenue, 9th Floor, NYC, March 3 –21, 2004
Directed by THOMAS G. WAITES
Set & Lighting Design JOSH IACOVELLI
Stage Manager TERRI MINTZ
Press Representative MARK CANNISTRARO/EMPOWER PR
Marlene Wallace – Lee
Sarah Jackson – Austin
Charlie Moss – Saul
Mary A. Sarno - Mom
The controversy surrounding Indigo Productions’ showcase revival of Sam Shepard’s TRUE WEST will probably end up being much ado about nothing, in spite of the headlines in local entertainment publications. The production, featuring women in the written-as-male lead roles of Lee and Austin, prompted one of Shepard’s agents to insist that the show be closed immediately on the basis that the playwright would never allow women to play these roles, and that Indigo did not receive permission to alter the original play in any way. Well, Indigo has not closed the production, and, not being in a position to comment on what is true and what is blather in the debate over who knew what and who had permission to do what, I am just going to go ahead and review this play based on what I saw in the theater, and not what I read in the papers.
In the original script of TRUE WEST, the two main characters are brothers. Now they are sisters. Some words have been altered to correct gender references, but the essence of the relationship is unchanged. These are siblings unsettled. Each craves, unhealthily, what the other has. Each goes to extremes to cross over to the other side. Call it a battle between the haves and the have-nots, view it as the polluting effects of potential fame and fortune on already tenuous family ties, or simply see this as a social experiment gone oh so bad.
In TRUE WEST’s typical bad-ass, low level criminal role, Marlene Wallace plays the tough and testy Lee as if she were never quite sober and definitely never stable. Sauntering around the stage, and always ready to come to blows, there is nothing girly about this portrayal. In simmering contrast, Sarah Jackson’s seemingly soft screenwriter, Austin never shocks us, but is full of surprises. Her undercurrent of rage, need and emotional vacancy seeps slowly at first, culminating in an explosive, convulsive conclusion.
We already knew that the play was good, so one really need not comment on Sam Shepard’s skills as a playwright when critiquing TRUE WEST. In terms of this particular production, the only major flaw would have to be that the fight scenes are too stagy and never reach a point where the audience is palpably aware of imminent danger or impending assault. Even when they seem to be doing so, staging-wise, I never had the sense that these actors were hurting one another, and at those crucial moments I was hyperaware that I was watching actors and not the characters they were playing. I just did not lose myself in those moments. They were too cautious. What an odd complaint about a small production that has drawn the virtual ire of a modern playwright and his international entourage!
I say, as seemed to be the case with the enthusiastic audience in attendance when I experienced Indigo Productions infamous TRUE WEST, that if you like Sam Shepard, and if you live in the area, and are looking for something to do, you may as well check this out. It is live, viable theater for adults. It is a chance to see something established, affordable and of reasonable quality. These days, that is a whole lot.
- Kessa De Santis -