Loading...
 

Theater Review - Brothers Grim

Sam Shepard's True West no longer feels like the Wild West. The play still presents a case of sibling rivalry to equal Cain and Abel, but it doesn't break new ground like its premiere 25 years ago. Once an excursion into untamed theatrical territory, True West today resembles a nostalgic visit to a now-gentrified neighborhood.

??
The inaugural production of Atlanta Theatre Laboratory makes a loving period piece of the play. Such details as manual typewriters, leisure suits and even the household ferns date True West firmly to the end of the 1970s. Given the play's satirical take on Hollywood, it's hard to ignore the irony of Shepard's second career as a respected (if not exactly choosy) movie actor. Plus, True West's themes — the haunting influence of boozing and derelict fathers — feels reminiscent of virtually every other Shepard play.

??
But the slow-burning power struggle between cut-throat brothers still makes for a compelling evening. Straight-laced college-boy Austin (Matthew Myers) writes successful screenplays, while violent-tempered drifter Lee (Nick Rhoton) steals from unsuspecting suburbanites. They undermine each other, mend fences, even try to switch places as their mother's house increasingly reverts to a chaotic mess. Shepard spends little time meandering off into mythic abstractions and reveals a playful sense of humor.

??
Director Chadwick Yarborough's production might be a little too funny for its own good. Rhoton and Myers show terrific comic timing as the brothers needle each other, but the set-up can feel excessively shticky, like a homicidal Odd Couple. The evening nevertheless pays off with manic sight gags involving a row of toasters or a typewriter smashed to pieces with a golf club, while between scenes, witty song selections (from Johnny Cash to Jimi Hendrix) enhance the mood.

??
Austin and Lee clash over the nature of the authentic "West" and whether the guns-and-horses setting of American legend is preferable to the harsh freedom of life in the genuine wilderness. Of course, Hollywood technically lies further West than cowboy country, and Shepard's play suggests that it's every bit as desolate as the emptiest desert.

??
Atlanta Theatre Laboratory presents True West through Sept. 3, with a midnight performance Sept. 9. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Conant Performing Arts Center at Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Road. $10. 404-731-5871. www.atlaboratory.com.