True West

The plays of Sam Shepard are examples of paradoxical complexity. When performed well, Shepard's scripts, intricately layered yet simplistically conversational to the ear, crackle with excitement. Unfortunately, when given a cursory treatment, as is the case with this lackluster production, the result is closer to that of mundane soap opera–quality fare.

Primary responsibility for this pedantic staging lies squarely on the shoulders of director Aliah Whitmore. Plodding along lethargically, this staging gives only the slightest glimpses of constantly evolving threat. Actors Andre Verderame and Andrew Patton, playing a pair of brothers, rarely attain any sort of genuine connection: Verderame's Austin, holed up in his mother's Southern California home, attempts to complete a screenplay; Patton's Lee is a desert-dwelling grifter and cat burglar lurking about for a quick score. To his credit, Patton manages to carry off the conversational tone of Shepard's writing, but he lacks the mass necessary to appear physically threatening. Conversely, Verderame's line readings never leap off the page, and his second-act drunk scene is a muddled mess as he flops around the stage demonstrating his supposed inebriation. Their final scene display of violence, one of the few times that the production effectively utilizes designer Jacob Whitmore's sprawling set, is a case of too little too late, leaving a number of audience members audibly stifling uncomfortable snickers.

Mike Genovese's intriguing, well-executed turn as a slick Hollywood producer, torn between the brothers' competing story ideas, elicits images of a moth drawn to the flame. As he recognizes Lee's unpredictability, the producer finds himself too tempted by the possible financial payoff to extricate himself from the hazardous relationship. But Joan McCrea, playing the boys' mother who returns from an Alaskan trip, wanders the stage listlessly, never shedding any light on her sons' diametrically opposed life paths. And in keeping with the rest of the show, any momentum further suffers from terribly staged scene changes that drag on mercilessly.

Presented by the Whitmore Eclectic at the Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. Sept. 9–Oct. 3. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (818) 826-3609.