It’s not easy being siblings. Just ask Austin and Lee from Sam Shepard’s True West. Austin is a family man with a successful career as a writer and Lee…well, Lee is a hustler who spent months hanging out in the desert. He also drinks beer for breakfast and lunch… and dinner. Years of resentment, unattained dreams, and pent up frustration fill in every crevice of their mother’s kitchen where the two are holed up for the duration of the play.
As anyone could imagine, the consequences of this “quality time” is nothing short of explosive.
And so begins Bare Bones Theater Company’s most recent production, directed by John Doric. Whether it is the heavy silence (only punctuated by the sound of Austin’s typewriter) or the monotonous crickets from the first few minutes of the beginning scene, the tension between these brothers is already hanging in the air.
RJ Meyer as Lee is effectively aggressive with Tim Thieke’s Austin right off the bat. He tries to play it off as if he’s the rough and tough but joking around kind of guy, when he’s really not. Meyer is particularly villainous when casting his death stare. It’s no wonder that Austin tries to keep things as calm as he can between the two. Theike is particularly convincing as the “weaker” of the brothers, forever remaining diplomatic and never pushing his “success” in the face of his brother.
It’s a tough balance to achieve but at times Meyer is able to show a softer side of Lee even if it is immediately taken over by his bullying tendencies. Pushing Austin around makes him feel powerful, in the same way that stealing makes him feel like he’s in control. On the other hand, Austin, while clearly irritated with his brother, does express empathy and offers help – even though Lee continues to turn him down. It’s amazing to think these two grew up under the same roof – they couldn’t be any more different, could they?
At first sight it may not be that obvious, but both characters are more than black and white portraits of men who have moved in separate directions. Meyer and Theike dutifully and powerfully express the complexities and dualities of both men through the course of the play. The physical nature of True West was, in itself, intense, and the chemistry between Myer and Theike only added to the feeling of foreboding. How would this end?
When their roles reverse a bit, Theike truly (and hilariously) shines as his character lets his hair down (and expresses a certain fondness for toast). His singing was particularly good (even after much alcohol consumption – impressive). Both also do a fantastic job of utilizing the set by Sonja Fiala to further deepen the personality quirks of their characters. Up until the last fadeout, Austin and Lee continuously face off and come together, and the ending is never certain. Robert Oliver added a certain sleaziness as Saul Kimmer, a producer, and Annette Kirk, as Austin and Lee’s mother, displays an entertaining amount of wide-eyed innocence.
In this engaging production of True West, the lighting by Stephen Shelowitz is particularly impressive and realistic as the play moves from day to afternoon to evening. Bare Bones Theater’s cast and crew surely do Sam Shepard’s play justice, showcasing two strong performers in a story that digs deep into the psyche of siblings.
This production of True West will run on April 12-14; 19-21. Bare Bones Theater makes its home in Northport, Long Island. For more information on this production and Bare Bones Theater, please visit their Facebook page, Barebonestheater.com, or call (631) 757-9616.