Friday, August 16, 2019

Review of True West at Steppenwolf Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called True West. It was written by Sam Shepard and directed by Randall Arney. It was about two brothers who were staying at their mother's house while she was away. The brothers had taken two very different paths in life, The oldest, Lee (Namir Smallwood), had gone on a soul searching trip to the dessert, while Austin (Jon Michael Hill), the youngest, had made a family and started a career in screenwriting, but when Austin has a meeting with a producer named Saul (Francis Guinan) at the house, Lee sees this as a good time to prove that he can be as successful in Austin’s profession as his brother. This show is about family, masculinity, and damage. This show is overpowering and beautiful and twisted, right up my alley.

This show has a lot of humor that is very messed up. This adds a lot to the dynamic of the brothers. One of the most memorable moments for me was when Lee had taken up Austin’s profession, so Austin thought he would do what Lee had been doing, stealing. So Austin went to a large number of houses and stole an abundance of toasters. He then decided to make toast in each of the toasters on 0 hours of sleep and slowly started to act crazed and more crazed as he made this toast. I should also mention that his brother was screaming at him to not make toast this whole time. This is so brilliant because it puts together two very vital parts of a play, advancing the relationship and humor. It makes the audience feel more uncomfortable over time because when the lights first come up on a room filled with toasters it is immediately humorous, but as the scenario continues you realize how unhealthy these people are and you realize how many houses he had to break into and how crazy he must be to break into all these houses. Austin also is brushing off all of his brothers cruel comments which had almost broken him before. This bit of prop comedy comes with so much beautiful baggage that adds so many layers to the situation.

The dynamic between the brothers had some beautiful parallels with the coyotes that are referenced multiple times in the play. At first I was confused as to why the coyotes were so largely referenced and why it added to the story, but by the end it all rounded itself out with out being tied up in a neat bow. The final motif showed how the brothers were like the coyotes; they fought and howled for power for no reason other then the need for dominance. Another layer of the siblings' relationship is that they are very similar. The brothers are always saying that they are so different, but they both want the same thing; they want power over the other. But what they want they both cannot have at the same time. This is where the bulk of the conflict comes in; they both want the same thing and go about getting it by both going through this elaborate game of copycat and trying to prove to the other that they can be just as successful as they are.

Obviously, by the way the brothers act, they must have not have had a healthy childhood, and in this play we get a taste of why the brothers are the way they are. When Austin and Lee’s mother comes home, she comes back to a complete disaster. There are dead plants (and the only reason she asked Austin to housesit was to water the plants). Tons of toasters and paper are tossed about the room and their mother does not freak out. She walks around the room telling her kids that it was for the better that they failed at their ONE JOB and that now she doesn’t have responsibilities, which she says she likes. She does not assert herself in any situation; even when her sons might kill each other, she brushes it off and tells them to take it outside. I think that this shows where a lot of deep-seated trauma comes from. It seems like the mother thinks that her letting them do what they want is showing her trust of them and therefore her love, but I think that this showed neglect. And given that their father is unreliable and can't even care for himself, which we learn in a heartbreaking story Austin tells, Austin and Lee may have felt that she also did not care about them. When two siblings don’t feel love/equal love from their parents, they turn against each other in a fight for superiority in their parents' eyes.

People who would like this show are people who like intriguing backstories, partly hidden comparisons, and an abundance of toasters. I think this is an amazingly done piece of work and I loved it. I'm still thinking of it weeks later.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

No comments: