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LA Theater Review

True West

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Is it possible this Sam Shepard piece deserves the label of "theatrical warhorse?" Considered gritty and cutting edge at the time of its 1980 premiere, this tale of two brothers, complete opposites, who collide head-on, seems somewhat pedestrian in this day and age. But, judging by this production, it's obvious that given the right mix of artistic temperament and vision, new and exciting inroads can be discovered even in the most familiar of material.

Director Wendy Obstler demonstrates a steady hand with Shepard's slowly simmering story. Where others might rush the play's emotional arc, Obstler affords her cast the time and luxury to build the necessary tension. Having cast Tiger Reel and Andre Carriere as her leads certainly makes Obstler's work that much easier. Reel plays Austin, a semi-successful screenwriter struggling to finish a romantic period piece. Holed up in his mother's Southern California home while she's traveling in Alaska, he finds his work and sanity slowly sapped by the presence of his slacker brother, Lee. Although the teeth-discoloring makeup he uses is a bit heavy for this small venue, Carriere, sinewy and tattooed, embodies this unpredictable familial menace with ease. Is Lee teetering on the edge of insanity, or is his short fuse a time-tested method of psychologically outfoxing everyone around him? Those moments of silence when we watch the wheels spinning in Carriere's head make Reel's discomfort so grippingly palpable.

An often-cartoonish supporting role, that of Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer, is crafted beautifully here by Lance Beckoff. Never over-the-top, Beckoff knows just when to let the gravity of the brothers' self-destructive personalities play into his character's objectives. His scenes successfully build this soon-to-be-crashing house of cards rather than merely serving as a comic subplot. Caryl West's final-scene appearance as the boys' mom, though providing insight into this dysfunctional family, seems a bit too sane as she witnesses the physical brutality her progeny inflict on each other.

Design elements are middle-of-the-road—Obstler's disjointed scene changes, half-lit but often executed in character, being this critic's only major quibble.

Presented by the Doghouse Theatre and Action! Theatre Company at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.
June 19–July 25. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.
(800) 595-4859 or www.insightamerica.org.

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