By Sam Shepard
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Which is the true American West? The West of cowboys and outlaws living off the land? Or the West of pampered screenwriters weaving their dreams into cinema blockbusters? Or are these both the same West?
Those are the central questions asked urgently again in Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer-finalist 1980 drama True West, currently getting a punchy but slightly off-kilter revival on Broadway.
Back in 1980, Sam Shepard’s saga of a pair of brothers, one a screenwriter, one an outlaw, clashing and eventually switching places provided a career launching pad for two major actors, John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. Those roles have been inherited for this production by Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano, but it’s not a fair fight. As the tough, threatening outlaw brother Lee, Hawke dominates this production. He gives a menacing performance like a dark storm cloud about to explode into thunder, lightning and associated violence at any moment. He does it so convincingly that it throws this play about sibling rivalry off balance. Dano gives the role of the milquetoast Austin his all, but there’s really no contest.
Speaking of toast, Hawke and Dano are at their best in the scene where Austin fills their mother’s kitchen with stolen toasters and proceeds to cook up a mass of fragrant toast on stage, just to taunt Lee.
Director James Mcdonald [CQ] has his actors play every scene for audience-pleasing laughs, especially the Act II scene where their mother (Marylouise Burke) turns up unexpectedly to find her home in shambles.
There are very few plays that you can call a little TOO much fun, and this True West is truly one.
True West is scheduled to play a limited run at the American Airlines Theatre on West 42ndStreet through March 17.