True West, Crucible, Sheffield
Thursday 27 May 2010
You wouldn't want to live in this anonymous neighbourhood off a Californian freeway. Despite the projections of blossomy trees in full leaf, the formulaic kitchen in which Sam Shepard set True West suggests an unhealthily claustrophobic environment where, as Shepard put it, "people lose the will to go on".
Into this "collection of junk... mostly people" comes screenwriter Austin, house-sitting for his mother. An unexpected visitor, in the form of his aggressive older brother, Lee, interrupts more than Austin's train of thought as old sores are reopened, unfinished battles recommence and scarcely suppressed rivalries emerge.
Shepard's vivid myth of American life, with its seething frustration and fruitless search for identity, is given added edge in Paul Miller's astute production by having Nigel Harman and John Light alternate in the roles of the two brothers. Having seen Light's bullying, manipulative Lee and Harman's gullible Austin, you immediately want to see the play again with the roles reversed. (Has the Crucible considered selling a double ticket so audiences can compare and contrast?) It's a clever idea, borrowed from Broadway, since Shepard takes his two principal characters on a tough emotional journey during which the brothers try to take over each other's life, each mentally morphing into the other.
In Light's cussed Lee, aggression seems as much bottled up inside him as exploding in violent attacks on everything except, miraculously, his mother's antique china. The assured way in which he sells a story to Austin's Hollywood producer, Kimmer, is just one of the funnier moments in a gripping tale of a disturbing, double-sided relationship.
Harman's Austin seems genuinely bemused by the development of a plot in which he finds himself coerced into collaborating over an absurd screenplay outline that could change both their lives.
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