Sam Shepard seems to revel in themes of personal obsession and his 1980 play this is no exception. True West places the two great warring themes of American culture, the Wild West and the American Dream, in the context of sibling rivalry.
Set in the sprawling suburbia of West Coast America, True West moves between allegory and realism. Two semi-estranged brothers meet in their Mother's home while she is on holiday in Alaska. Austin (Luke Griffin) appears to have carved out a successful career as a scriptwriter. By contrast, Lee (Declan Conlon) is shiftless and confused after a life of petty theft and a three month sojourn in the Mojave desert. Yet their identities merge when, in an absurd twist, Lee invites Austin's producer, Saul, for a round of golf, wins a bet and consequently sells the film rights to his "modern Western". As a result, the brothers are forced into an uneasy and violent co-dependency. Austin desperately covets Lee's newly-found power, whereas Lee needs Austin in order to write his screenplay.
The play questions the notion of imaginary landscapes. Lee's story tries to evoke the mythical West yet the audience is always conscious of the play's suburban setting. Similarly, Lee's invented role as knowing fraudster begins to slip when Austin talks about their Father. Shepard likes to play with the notion of the ridiculous. Lee's cliched and vaguely preposterous story is as real as Austin's dream of a life in the desert.
Under Jimmy Fay's direction, Declan Conlon's manic Lee displays a caustic sense of humour but his righteous fury is not always as convincing. Luke Griffin is engaging as the Ivy League graduate cowed by his brother and his own destructive impulses. Philip Judge is gleefully slippery as Saul. However Carol Moore's Mom makes the greatest impression as she picks through the wreckage of her home and looks forlornly at her dead houseplants.
Ferdia Murphy's set functions well but does not enable the cast to move as fluidly as they should. But Ivan Birthwhistle's sound design helps to compensate for any spatial limitations. The few minutes of ear-splitting white noise during the penultimate scene change acts as a prelude to the marked heightening of familial tensions.
Overall the production has a certain urgency but seems lacking in vitality. This True West only really comes alive in a few moments of On-stage aggression whilst the violence of the dialogue is sometimes overlooked.
- Claire Simpson