Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: (Toronto) True West

Stuart Hughes (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

True West is Strangely Directionless
by Christian Baines

Sam Shepard’s furious tale of brotherly feuding isn’t the easiest play to pull off. But something has gone seriously askew when the production’s comedy elicits only a few polite chuckles, and its darker elements summon only that faint shrug of ‘meh’.

Lee is a drifting petty criminal. His brother Austin is a highly successful screenwriter. But do the two men secretly yearn for a taste of what the other has? True West has become something of a modern American classic and when done right, brings the brothers’ conflict to an explosive head that teeters dangerously between the hilarious and the downright terrifying.

The actors’ connection to each other and Hughes’ connection to the material feels too superficial and too sitcom-ish to really pay off.

Stuart Hughes is unfortunately miscast as a strangely benign Lee. His flair for comedy is evident, particularly in the play’s light hearted opening, but by the second scene, which opens with him sporting a frankly ludicrous sombrero, it’s clear the character is being played for laughs. Faring better is Mike Ross, who works hard to give Austin the kind of layering necessary to track the character’s rising frustrations and ultimate meltdown. 

Ross’s commitment to this is unquestionable when it finally happens, but little effort is made to connect the narrative dots in the brothers’ relationship up to that point. There’s a distinct lack of direction and focus in the way Shepard’s dialogue is brought to the stage. The actors’ connection to each other and Hughes’ connection to the material feels too superficial and too sitcom-ish to really pay off. So a climax that should be joyfully demented instead feels contrived and lacks spontaneity.

Patricia Hamilton practically throws away her already slim role as the pair’s mother, while Ari Cohen rests on campy Hollywood stereotypes as Saul Kimmer – a crushing disappointment since this casting choice can’t help but put us in mind of his terrific performance in last year’s Speed-the-Plow.

The whole thing plays competently enough, with a few genuinely entertaining moments. But when it comes to a play so reliant on nuance, subtlety and paranoia, all bubbling just below the surface, ‘competent’ doesn’t really cut it. For a story set against the back-drop of multi-million dollar movie deals, this version’s going straight to DVD.

True West plays at Soulpepper until May 4.

1 comment:

  1. I dunno, I slept through most of it. Good review Chris. Oh you forgot to mention the side ways seating. Looking over to the left after 20 minutes almost left me disabled. You have to admit the actors tried hard. It seems they missed a beat in the beginning which compounded as the play unfolded. These guys never had a chance to place the rhythm back on track.


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