Barebones Productions gets back to bare essentials with ‘True West’ play in Braddock | TribLIVE.com
Theater & Arts

Barebones Productions gets back to bare essentials with ‘True West’ play in Braddock

Paul Guggenheimer
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Barebones Black Box
Patrick Jordan (left) as Lee and Gabriel King as Austin in “True West.” opening Sept. 6 at Barebones Black Box in Braddock.

After enjoying a brief foray into glitz and glamour with its successful staging of “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” Barebones Productions is getting back to the gritty content it’s largely known for.

Sam Shepard’s play “True West” opens Friday at the Barebones Black Box in Braddock, representing a return to material that is a bit more menacing.

“ ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ had a drag show and all these beautiful costumes that are amazing and it was stitch-in-your-sides funny and touching at the same time,” said Patrick Jordan, Barebones founder and artistic director. The show was an overwhelming success, selling out its five-week run from Feb. 14 to March 17 and adding an extra week of shows.

“True West” is about two brothers, one a prim and proper Ivy League-educated screenwriter named Austin (Gabriel King), and the other a scraggly, drunken drifter named Lee (Jordan).

“ ‘True West’ is a real Barebones play. It’s getting back to the core of what we started off doing,” said Jordan. “Sam Shepard has a giant canon of plays. Not everyone is going to understand them. This one is one of the most accessible.”

Austin is working on a screenplay while housesitting for his mother in Southern California. He has a meeting with a Hollywood producer to sell his screenplay. Lee shows up unannounced with a plan to rob the houses in his mother’s neighborhood. He then decides to pitch his own movie idea: a trashy Western tale that interests the producer more than Austin’s bleak love story.

As the play unfolds, each brother ends up walking in the other’s shoes.

“The play is extraordinarily visceral. It’s extraordinarily funny. But it punches you in the gut,” said Jordan. “You’ve got this dynamic with the sibling rivalry between the two brothers. The play has a dual nature: the pull of wanting to be a man and live off the land versus sitting on the freeway for three hours a day to get to work.

“It asks, ‘What is America? What is the West? What is American life? And what is true and false in American society right now?’ ”

Jordan, who is directing “True West” with help from frequent collaborator Melissa Martin, says he’s been in love with the play since he started acting, even though he hasn’t actually seen a full, live production of it.

“Back when I was in college I saw the PBS special that they did with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. I said, ‘What the hell is this?’ and I’ve been in love with Sam Shepard ever since,” said Jordan.

Shepard wrote the play in 1980. Jordan calls it an American classic. “It’s not dated,” he said. “The only thing missing is cell phones.”

According to Jordan, this production will make for a snappy night out with the entire play, including intermission, lasting less than two hours.

“I kind of wish I could see the show that we’re doing right now. My biggest regret is I don’t get to see it.”

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].

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