Thursday, July 17, 2008
The wild, wild west
Sam Shephard is the playwright. True West is the play. The Banyan Theater Company recently staged it, but let's get back to that.
As to the playwright ...
Sam Shephard is a madman.True West violates every basic understanding I have regarding structure, character, dialog and premise. The damn thing shouldn't work. But it works. No, Albert. Gravity can't bend light, you silly man. Take the rest of the day off. The patent office can live without you. But there it is.
Starlight curves around the sun. True West works.
To summarize the damn thing?
There's these two brothers, see. Austin is a bigtime Hollywood screenwriter. Lee is a burglar and a bum. Austin has just nailed down a major script deal when Lee shows up and impresses Austin's producer with his Wild West authenticity. The shady brother plays golf with Austin's producer, and comes back from the country club with a deal of his own for a movie based on a bullshit story about two dudes racing horses across the Texas panhandle on account of they's in love with the same woman. Austin's former producer sidelines Austin's project and gives Lee a bigass advance for this glorious tale. Well, sir. Lee discovers that writing a script is freaking hard. Austin gloats. Lee begs for help. Austin refuses to adapt his illiterate brother's story. After stealing a buncha toasters to prove his manhood, Austin changes his mind. Austin'll write the script, if'n Lee will teach him to live like a bum in the desert so's he can escape the Hollywood bullshit. Lee agrees, but has second thoughts. At the end of the play, Austin tries to strangle his brother with a telephone cord. But Lee survives. They square off for a shoot-out or some such.
The plot is preposterous. It shouldn't work, damn it.
The play doesn't start off that crazy. Shephard opens with a bizarre but realistic premise: Two brothers pitch their movie ideas. One's a bum, the other's a screenwriter. The bum wins. Hey, it could happen.
Shephard procedes to paint himself into a corner. Then he blows up the corner. Then he sets the house on fire. The Three Stooges has more logic. But it works.
Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.
I don't know how Shephard does it, folks. Mr. Knowitall is beyond his paygrade.
It's a dream of freedom, nailed to the cross of everyday bullshit.
It's an elegy for the brothers' missing, absent, toothless father.
It's a turd on Hollywood Boulevard.
Something like that. True West shouldn't work, but it does and I really don't know why. Seriously. I don't know this particular magic trick, the card up Shephard's sleeve. But I want to.
Magic aside, you're probably wondering about the Banyan production itself. Yeah, well. Since you ask: It's one of the best plays I've seen in the last ten years. Hey, I'm as shocked as you are. R. Ward Duffy (Lee) and Eric Hissom (Austin) hit it out of the park as the borderline psychotic Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Props also to J. Bloomrosen (the brothers' clueless producer) and Nina Hughes (their poor mom) and director Chris Dolman for poking Shepard's needles in my brain.
A Banyan Theater Company production
Through Aug. 3
FSU Center for the Performing Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota