REVIEW: Pittsburgh Public Theater toasts tensions in its strong 'True West'
Brothers. Booze. Buttered toast.
All three play a large part in Sam Shepard's “True West,” the latest in Pittsburgh Public Theater's Masterpiece Season.
This volatile drama, directed by Pamela Berlin, builds to a crashing climax, dragging the audience along the way. Here, the standard American dream of success — house, family, career — is challenged by a less-civilized dream of a frontiersman who can make it anywhere, even in the desert.
The two brothers meet for the first time in five years in mom's suburban, California house. It's the late 1970s, a world we recognize from the seamless linoleum floor, the Harvest Gold appliances, the oversized wooden fork and spoon over the stove.
Preppy Austin (played to priggy perfection by Ken Barnett) is an Ivy League-educated screenwriter, house sitting while mom's away. Older brother Lee (David Mogentale, exuding menacing aggression) shows up unexpectedly, sipping a can of beer.
Ten years apart in age, poles apart by temperament and lifestyle, they couldn't look more different. Michael Krass nailed the costumes here. Austin is pressed and buttoned up. Lee, a petty thief, self-reliant and lawless, is the kind of man you'd cross the street to avoid. His suit pants were tailored for someone of another build. His bare feet slide in and out of a scuffed and worn pair of dress shoes. A gray raincoat is smudged with grime.
Sibling rivalry quickly joins the reunion with a mix of jealousy and grudging admiration.
But the relationship hits a downward spiral when Lee convinces Austin's producer (Dan Shor, an excellent choice as a Hollywood hustler) to drop Austin's script and invest in Lee's “true” western story.
In his tale, Lee describes a man chasing another across the desert, each afraid: “The one who is chasing doesn't know where the other is taking him. And the one who's being chased doesn't know where he's going.”
It's a terrible thought we keep in mind as Austin begins drinking and the brothers switch personas: Who's chasing? Who's leading?
Lee concentrates on the typewriter — first banging with a two-finger approach, then pounding in frustration with a golf club. Austin becomes the vagabond thief, breaking into houses. He lines the kitchen counter with bright, shiny toasters. Austin loads each and, as the scene continues, the toasted bread pops up at random, sending out a heady aroma.
“I love the smell of toast,” says Austin, likening it to salvation. “It makes me feel like anything is possible.”
Yes, anything — including escalating violence, cruel intimidation and pent-up anger let loose.
Michael Schweikardt's set brilliantly details the era in which the play is set. The look is enhanced by John Lasiter's lighting through the back windows — from early-morning glow, bright daylight and midnight blue behind the mountains.
As sound designer, Zach Moore's cricket symphony and coyote cries give added dimension to the rising tension between the characters.
There's no credit for scent design, but few will leave the theater without a craving for toast — and a feeling of relief.
Sally Quinn is deputy managing editor for features for Trib Total Media. She can be reach at 412-320-7885 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Stakes high as ex-Saints receiver Moore faces his former team
- Icy roads cause accidents, slow traffic across Western Pa.
- Fayette County history could fetch big bucks at Ohio auction
- Mt. Lebanon staffers become hunters to attack deer problem
- Earlier openings make Black Friday shopping easier for bargain-hunters
- Steelers notebook: Injury to RT Gilbert opens door for Adams to start
- Police identify driver in North Side crash that killed pregnant woman
- Pitt receiver Boyd continues to grow on and off the field
- Company seeks to reopen coal mine in Nottingham, Washington County
- Penguins notebook: Winning home games crucial for Penguins
- Work with disabled earns Shaler grad honor