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Review: True West at Actors Theatre
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If you’re interested in the feel-good, warm and fuzzy type of theatre, go see A Christmas Story (now in its final season and running concurrently with True West).

True West is dynamic. Explosive. Deep. Dark. Funny.

With violence, bodily fluids, excessive drinking, shadowy dialogue and more operational toasters than Perkins on a Sunday morning, Actors Theatre’s production of True West is enough to keep you both ill at ease and laughing at the same time.

This isn’t fluff. There are entire college courses devoted to the subtext and metaphors in the scripts of award-winning playwright Sam Shepard. 

Shepard has, with True West, created a no-holds-bared look at the contentious and uneasy relationship between brothers Austin, an up-and-coming playwright, and Lee, a rough-around-the-edges con man. The two have reconnected in their mother’s home while she is away, neither exactly trusting the other.

The nine scenes that ensue drum up a plethora of emotions as the characters battle alcohol, deadlines, their past, and each other.

The trust the two actors have with one another is, along with Shepard’s vivid script, the driving force that makes this production so successful. Their comfortability facilitates the audiences’ discomfort. 

Lee (William Apps) is as quirky as he is volatile. Apps has found both the darkly comedic and controlling power of his character. His unpredictable nature is intriguing.

Nate Miller (Austin) was last seen onstage as Mercutio in Actor’s production of Romeo and Juliet earlier this year. His talent for creating multi-faceted characters once again shines through. Miller swings the pendulum from guarded and measured to unstable and predatory.

Connor Barrett and Emily McDonnell round out the stellar cast of this stellar show.

The action of the play takes place entirely behind a rectangle of 8-foot-high Plexiglas, which provides a unique dynamic to the production; it’s like watching a play at a hockey rink. 

While Obie Award-winning director Adam Rapp and scenic designer Andromache Chalfant attribute this choice to a desire to free the actors during performances, it also serves to restrain them in a not-so-metaphorical cage; a thought-provoking image.

On the downside, this cage is a hindrance for the audience, as it creates some reverberation of the actors’ voices. The effect was problematic at floor level, making it occasionally difficult to understand the dialogue; it may prove less so as one goes higher in the auditorium.

In addition to the Plexiglas, the set harbors a large hole onstage that leads to the offstage entrance of the home. While the actors themselves were extremely comfortable in the space and knew it well, it served as yet another point of uneasiness for members of the audience as they watched Lee and Austin skirt the hole time after time, waiting for just one misstep.

True West runs an hour and forty minutes with no intermission, but it goes by in a blink. There’s not a moment in this lively production to get bored or restless.

True West is part of the Brown-Forman Series and runs through December 9th. Tickets start at $39, and can be purchased online, over the phone by calling 502-584-1205 (additional fees apply) or in person. Actors Theatre provides several discount ticket opportunities, including $10 tickets for patrons who have never purchased tickets from Actors Theatre. 

Image: Courtesy Actors Theatre

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About Michelle Rynbrandt

Before landing in the Possibility City, Michelle toured the country performing in various regional theatres. Having been there and done that, she can honestly say that Louisville's cultural opportunities are second to none.

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