True West has fascinated me for decades. It begins in a Southern California home on the rather ordinary night that brothers Austin and Lee reconnect after a long estrangement. It ends days later in astonishing, demented, uproarious chaos. In between the tranquility and the turmoil stand all the societal and familial principles meant to keep such chaos at bay, torched one after another in the duo’s delirious struggle for brotherly dominance.
At the crux of their struggle sits, again, something rather ordinary: a screenplay. Austin has been working for years to build himself a screenwriting career, and his first meeting with an influential Hollywood producer just so happens to take place the day after Lee arrives. Lee is a vagabond and small-time criminal who has never written anything in his life, but when he crashes Austin’s meeting, it is his impromptu idea for a machismo-fueled Western that captures the producer’s attention, not the finely-crafted pitch that Austin has devised for the period piece he is writing.
From this single thread, True West playwright Sam Shepard unravels the entire fabric of the American Dream – and Austin’s and Lee’s lives along with it. If a “lowlife” such as Lee can beat an honest, hard-working man such as Austin at his own game, then what of artistic integrity? What of decency, or talent, or character? If the best man cannot win, then why play by the rules at all? Perhaps, as Shepard so methodically reveals to us, there are no “best men,” and the rules are wholly different from what we have been led to believe in the first place.
This is what has captivated me so powerfully about True West ever since it first premiered in 1980. Within the four walls of True West’s quotidian kitchen, the social contract gets turned on its head – and Shepard sacrifices no thrill as he unleashes an absurd, euphoric mayhem upon this unlikely arena. The result is just as viscerally exhilarating as it is existentially alarming, just as intellectually gripping as it is theatrically mesmerizing.
And what a joy and honor it is to bring Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated masterpiece to life with this sensational cast and creative team. Director James Macdonald has brought a bold vision to this production, and Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano – two of the most extraordinary actors of their time – could not make for a more electrifying leading pair. I have long dreamed of the opportunity to revive True West, and with such a remarkable group of artists at the helm, I have no doubt that you will find this show just as enthralling as I do.
As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts on our season, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your reactions. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.
I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!