Inside True West

Carl J. Bachus | culture editor

PSU Theater is wrapping up production on its spring performance of Sam Shepard’s “True West.”
It is the story of two estranged brothers reuniting while their mother is out of town. The drama opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, in the Grubbs Studio Theater.
“True West” is the tale of the sibling rivalry between Austin and Lee, two brothers reconnecting after five years.

Director Gil Cooper gives Lee (Austin Curtright) and Austin (Rashid Fieler-Bey), blocking notes on the pivotal scene in their characters' relationship at a rehearsal for "True West"

Director Gil Cooper gives Lee (Austin Curtright) and Austin (Rashid Fieler-Bey), blocking notes on the pivotal scene in their characters’ relationship at a rehearsal for “True West”

Austin is a married Hollywood screenwriter house-sitting for his mother while she is on vacation in Alaska. His world is turned upside down when Lee, his drifter of a brother, knocks on his door.
“The play has a strong theme of understanding what real life is,” said Gil Cooper, director and instructor of communication. “The two brothers have this view of each other’s life as better. I thought that it would be interesting to play with that idea of illusion and perception by having there be two different Austins and, obviously, two different shows.”
Cooper revealed that his original intention was to cast a pair of actors to play Austin and Lee and a pair of actresses to play them in a gender-bent version of the show.
After learning of Shepard’s disapproval of the idea, he cast two pairs of actors, but one of the performers playing Lee had to drop out.
“We said that we still had a good Austin and two good Lees and we can make this work,” Cooper said.
Austin Curtright, senior in general studies who plays Lee in both versions of the play, likens his character to a child who has been told all his life that he isn’t living up to his potential and chooses not to out of spite.
“Lee, for the last few months, has been living out on the Mojave, never really having full-time work,” Curtright said. “He’s a person who doesn’t care much for pomp and circumstance. This is the person who doesn’t understand the concept of a decorative pillow.”
Curtright explained that his in-the-moment acting choices are different with each of his co-stars, Robert Wilson, senior in communication, and Rashid Fielder-Bey.
“There’s a certain dynamic shift between the two performances that is really fascinating to be a part of,” Curtright said. “It feels more playful with Rashid, but more antagonistic with Robert – but the lines never change.”
The play first premiered in 1980 and has since featured performances by a number of famous faces, including Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Tommy Lee Jones.
Rounding out the cast are Taylor Patterson, sophomore in communication, as Lee, and Austin’s mother and Jacob Hacker, senior in communication, as film producer Saul.
“Basically, it’s Lee and Austin for the entire play,” Cooper said of the cast. “The dialogue has an interesting rhythm and syntax and that’s tough to learn as an actor. It feels very real in regards to dialogue. These actors have done a really great job of playing, not only the surface of the play, but the depth.”

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