Monday, January 21, 2013

True West - Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard (1943-)

True West was actually not as horrible as I expected. It is a play about good old fashioned sibling rivalry. Simple and straightforward it seems to be more profound than the endless monologues, strange imagery and constant discussion of menstruation in The Curse of the Starving Class...

 Austin and Lee are brothers both on the crux of midlifing. Austin seems to have it together, he has been shopping around a screenplay he has written and plans to meet with a producer to discuss his options. While he house-sits for his mother he finishes up the last minute touches to his screenplay when Lee, his older, less successful/vagrant/kleptomaniac brother wanders in and seems to resent the fact that his mother has left his little brother in charge. He demands to borrow Austin's car so that he can joyride/rob throughout the neighborhood and after a prolonged refusal Austin finally acquiesces.

Austin is a neat, educated seemingly responsible writer with a family and house payments, while Lee has spent the last few months involved in petty crime and living a life of solitude in the desert. Lee's first assessment of his mother's house is to notice all the valuable items are locked away and inconveniently out of reach. Our first impression is that Austin has a bright future as a potentially brilliant writer...and we're not sure whether or not Lee will make it to the end of the play sober or unincarcerated

When the producer finally comes to discuss the screenplay, Lee who was supposed to be absently stealing comes home only to convince the producer to meet him for a round of golf the next morning. While on the driving range, Lee either genuinely convinces the producer he has a screenplay just as good if not better than his brothers...or somehow gambles him for the option to write a screenplay, resulting in the producer opting out of Austin's screenplay and instead giving Lee an advance to start writing immediately.

Lee tries to get Austin to write the screenplay for him, but Austin who is now seriously depressed, thrown deeper into the insecurities of an ineffectual midlife adamantly refuses and while Lee begins pecking out the screenplay on Austin's old typewriter, Austin begins to taunt him about his alleged brilliant career as a thief. "Maybe I outta' go out and try my hand at your trade since you're doing so good at mine."

Lee doubts Austin has the nerve to sneak into someone's house and even steal so much as a toaster, which Austin accepts as a challenge and in the next scene there is a variety of chrome toasters newly absconded and quietly toasting bread while both Lee and Austin who are now very drunk from what began as celebratory champagne drinking for Lee and despondent binge drinking for Austin slowly destroy their mothers kitchen. Lee who is frustrated by his ineptitude as a typist throws the type writer across the room destroying it, while Austin butters dozens of pieces of toast and litters them about the kitchen.

Slowly the kitchen has been transformed from a nice suburban home to the wild west with havoc and disorder and tumbleweeds of papers from the ruined and discarded copies of screenplays littering the floor. Lee finally gets Austin to agree to write for him, after many attempts, by suggesting that he will take his little brother out into the desert with him. Austin has turned down potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars simply to play follow the leader with his big brother.

When their mother returns unexpectedly the brothers make a weak attempt to explain the disaster the kitchen has become and then after a few snide remarks here and there begin fighting. Austin manages to get Lee on the ground in a stranglehold and as the mother leaves, refusing to watch them tear each other apart Austin is stuck with the decision to either let Lee go and risk getting strangled himself or to just stay put and wait for Lee's rage to subside.

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