I had every intention of getting back to my movie reviews in the near future, and I will, but for today I thought I’d bring you something a little different. A play. I was lucky enough to score myself an invite to the premiere of Matchstick Theater’s production of Sam Shepard’s True West.
Now, before I continue, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should inform you that I am personally acquainted with the two lead roles of the show I saw last night. It’s not like we hang out on weekends or anything, but still thought it best to let you all know, in case I need my credibility intact at some point in the future – Like when I run for President of Mars or something. Also, my Fiancee is an Assoc. Producer on the show too. But I shall endeavor to be as unbiased as possible.
True West is the story of two bothers, Austin and Lee, who are house sitting for their mother who is on holiday in Alaska. Within the first few minutes it’s clearly set up that there is a lot of history between the siblings and that they rarely speak as gown ups.
Austin, the younger of the two is a successful ‘normal’ guy with a wife and kids who is on the brink of breaking into the movie business as a screenwriter. Lee, the older, is a dysfunctional alcoholic who robs houses and often lives alone in the desert for months at a time.
The dynamic in the beginning is somewhat obvious, with the older Lee often bullying the younger Austin and relying on previously established dominance to get his way. Austin makes it clear their mother asked him to house sit and that Lee is just visiting. Lee clearly feels hurt that he was not asked to help and takes out his frustration on his younger brother by getting drunk, distracting him from writing his script and even comes close to physically hurting him when things get heated. This, of course hints at a previous abusive relationship between the two.
The dynamic starts to shift when Lee comes home (stolen TV under arm) and interrupts a meeting between Austin and Saul, a big-time Hollywood Movie producer. What follows is a roller-coaster ride of awkward twists and turns as we think Lee will obviously embarrass Austin and ruin his movie deal. But then there are times Lee seems to be trying to help, but ultimately he’s not cut out for Hollywood and his antics start to affect Austin and his pending Movie deal.
As the brothers spend more time together, you get the distinct feeling that although Lee seems to be the odd one out, with his drinking and criminal ways and sometimes quite loopy personality, its possible the crazy behavior might just run in the family. Seeing the way Austin changes, you would be forgiven for not being able to figure out if he too is not all there, or if it’s just a mid-life crises. Meeting their Mother at the end tells me all I need to know to form an opinion of what I think Shepard was going for. But I’ll let you decide for yourself
Director, Alice Darling has managed to craft a somewhat unique script into a thoroughly enjoyable and relatable slice of american suburban life. She has kept it set in the late 70’s, which although the time period isn’t necessarily important to the plot, it goes a long way to giving it a fair bit of charm. I think a lesser director might have been tempted to modernize it in order to put their stamp on it. But I think Darling made the right call and in doing so has mad her mark.
The small yet talented cast also helps you feel more connected to the main characters. It doesn’t feel like any effort at all to remember who said what or who is who. You just watch and absorb. It’s a very easy play to watch. Being set in one location also gives the show a somewhat voyeuristic feel. As if we are neighbors sneaking a peek through the window.
Lee is played by Michael Argus (or Spank to his friends – Ask him about it, it’s a great story). Argus slots into this role like glove. He switches from charmingly ignorant to scarily threatening in an instant. He also manages to make you forgive him for some pretty intense moments. One scene in particular actually had me feeling sorry for him and made me feel this once threatening bully was actually victim in the story despite all the horrible behavior. The one criticism I have is that the quirkiness of this role meant that it wasn’t really a stretch for him when it came to the comedy. As a seasoned comedy pro from his time with The Lioness it was easy to see him in this role. His comedy style has always been about playing a very dry and slightly left of centre character. Still, you can’t blame an actor for choosing a role that suits them.
Charlie Mycroft plays Austin. I dont know Mycroft that well on a personal level. I really only know him from an Audition tape I saw more than a year ago and a few friendly “hello’s” while passing in a corridor. But watching Mycroft in the role of Austin was like seeing your Ex happy with a really good looking rich guy. I’m quite jealous that I didn’t get to work with him before seeing this… So I could claim sort of connection to his talent. Right off the bat, you feel something for Mycroft’s character. At first you relate, at times you fear for him, then you pity him. He does it all. Now I know, yes, all that was in the script, but Mycroft manages to take these mere words and deliver them to the audience on a silver tray. He then fluffs out a satin napkin and feeds you this great script with a golden spoon. It really is a pleasure to watch (or eat… I may have gotten a little lost with my analogy there).
So, time for my Summary….
I’m going to give this a whopping 4.5 stars. Although, I think by the time this show finishes it’s run it may well have earned a full 5 by other reviewers. If you live in Melbourne, do yourself a favor and check this show out. It really is very good. It runs until the 22nd of October at the Mechanics Institute in Brunswick