Jessica Witham as Lee and Paul Milisch as Austin in the Bricks Theatre's True West.
The Bricks Theatre continues to build a solid reputation with True West, the company's first show of the 2010-11 season. It opened Thursday at 827 E. Washington Ave.
True West is the tale of two siblings. Austin is a hard-working writer and Lee, his sister, is a wild woman who's blown into town on a whim. Hoping to get his love story on the big screen, Austin meets with movie producer Saul (flawlessly played by Mark Snowden). Lee interrupts the meeting and hustles Saul into producing a movie that she's dreamed up, a "real life western." He puts Austin's script on the back burner.
Director R. Peter Hunt offers a few new twists on Sam Shepard's 30-year-old play -- the most notable being the casting of a female as Lee. This works well and provides a gender balance to the cast. Feisty Lee is played by Jessica Jane Witham, who is able to pull off lines about boxing and dog fighting convincingly. Hunt keeps true to the script, in which Lee refers to relationships with women, so naturally, Lee is a lesbian. Lee's sexual orientation is in no way a focus of the show, but it helps to round out her character.
Especially in terms of appearance, all characters are well-cast. Costuming is subtle and natural. Paul Milisch's Austin is the kind of guy who dresses like he wants people to think he smokes pot. His hair is long enough to be called long, but it's well-tucked behind his ears at the start of the show. Lee, on the other hand, lives life completely on the edge. Her appearance shows it: she sports greasy hair, baggy cargo shorts, and a dirty wife beater.
True West examines the tension in the relationship between the brother and sister, and it turns out that sibling rivalry is a two-way street. As Peter Hunt writes in his program notes, "We are all a little bit of Lee and a little bit of Austin, and it is oftentimes difficult to reconcile between the two." As the show progresses, the two siblings, who at first seem so different, start to look and act more and more the same.
Not surprisingly, things fall apart completely between Lee and Austin. The audience is fully taken into the chaos and violence of their relationship -- perhaps a little too fully. My sole criticism of this show is that there are times where things simply go a little too far.
For instance, at Friday night's performance, the destruction of a laptop with a golf club was loud enough to physically hurt my ears, and I caught at least one other audience member plugging her ears. With props flying across the stage, I was surprised that no one ended up with a fork in his or her lap. The onstage violence certainly garnered audience reactions, but mostly through shock value. Shepard's script is solid enough that over-the-top antics aren't needed for the show to succeed.
While I'd have liked to see some of the action taken down a notch, overall, True West is another fine example of the Bricks' reliable excellence. This is a quality show worth seeing.