The playbill for the show was bright orange, sporting the title “True West” and an image of toast popping from a toaster. Only after viewing the DU Department of Theatre’s production did the program make sense.
“True West,” a play by Sam Shepard, was presented in the Byron Theatre for one night only on Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The show, presented as a staged reading after only one week of rehearsals, was remarkable, and it deserved more than one audience to enjoy it.
It followed the story of two brothers, Austin (Mikah Conway, freshman) and Lee (Erik Fellenstein, senior), living in their mother’s California house during her visit to Alaska. The brothers could not be more different; at the start of the play, Austin is a put-together family man working on his life’s ambition—a screenplay—and Lee is a free-spirited, less educated man who often lives in the desert and steals televisions to make a living. However, when Austin gets the opportunity to pitch his idea to film producer Saul (Anthony Adu, junior), Lee takes over and charms his way into the middle of things. After winning a gamble with Saul, Lee gets the chance to pitch his own mediocre story idea, a “true, American Western movie,” and ends up replacing Austin’s screenplay with his own. Toward the end of the play, there is a stunning role-reversal between the brothers, as Austin drunkenly fights and steals (steals toasters, hence the playbill), and Lee buckles down to work on his screenplay, though he can barely write and does not know the business. The men and their mother’s house are a mess by the end of the show, nearly torn apart by their opposing goals and personalities. “True West” also featured Mom (Nicole Seefried, senior) and Narrator (Erik Frederiksen, freshman).
The acting was fantastic throughout the show, and the cast, along with Director Garrett Biggs and Faculty Mentor Greg Ungar, did so much with so little. Because “True West” was only put on as a staged reading, there were simple costumes, no props, no sets and no fancy lighting, sounds or effects. The show revolved around words. Shepard’s script is so smart, so funny and yet so dark, and it was wholly enjoyable to watch something so humorous and disturbing come to life, even in such a minimalist way.
“I love Sam Shepard. I’m actually from California, and I’m also a writer, so that combination really struck me,” said Biggs on why he chose to direct “True West.” He also commented on the great humor and joked that he just really loved how messed up the show is.
“True West” was certainly something special. If you missed it, be sure to buy tickets to upcoming shows put on by DU’s theatre department this quarter. “The Spitfire Grill” runs Feb. 8-12 and “Pericles” runs Feb. 23 through Mar. 5.