True West, the Sam Shepherd Revival at the Roundabout

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True West at the Roundabout Theatre

Photo credit: Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano in True West
Photography: Joan Marcus

True West, the Sam Shepherd revival produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, is a play filled with verbal and physical sparring by brothers who are as opposite as night and day, yet with proclivities in common, and a hell of a lot of toast.

The brothers, Lee and Austin, face off in their mother’s kitschy kitchen somewhere in California, re-living their past, and vying for their writing to be produced. It’s always interesting to see such diverse personalities, as we do with the rough Lee, played by Ethan Hawke and the more persnickety Austin, by Paul Dano. These brothers haven’t seen each other in years, and with personalities like oil and water, while their mother is away, they get together and clash.

Lee is often in trouble, and the serious Austin is a screenwriter working to get his script produced. Each actor brings unique qualities to the role, causing combustion when their characters’ rivalry explodes into a physical display of brotherly distaste. Although Lee is the ruffian, Austin, obsessed with toasters, breaks in to neighbor’s homes to procure their toasters and makes copious amounts of toast. Are we really more like our siblings, then we are different, no matter how opposite? True West deeply explores the dark side of that question.

I particularly liked the set design by Mimi Lien in this production. Kitschy indeed-with cherry wallpaper, and rounded cabinetry filled with dishes.

With fine acting by Hawke and Dano, the piece creates uber-family tension, filled with bursts of humor…and violence.

Directed by James Macdonald, True West plays through March 17.

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