Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Go True West

True West, by Sam Shepard, is a play about two brothers: Austin, a screenwriter; and Lee, a drifter. When the play begins, Austin is housesitting for his mother, hoping to complete a new script in relative peace and quiet. Lee visits, interrupting Austin's tranquility, and when Austin's agent rejects his script in favor of a half-baked idea from Lee, the play erupts into a study of sibling rivalry, self-doubt, reinvention of self, and several other concepts, all of which Shepard handles with passion and comedy.

Ben Simonetti and Joe Fria
Go True West is a work of Absurdist Theatre in which two actors, Joe Fria and Ben Simonetti, repeat the first twenty lines of dialogue of True West in different styles. They race through the language, cough it out, do spit takes with it, dictate it into plastic cups, and laugh insanely while reading it. They translate it into Japanese, replace it with lines of prayer, reconceive it as snooty, convey it with chairs on their heads, wave their arms wildly while repeating it, and perform it without using words. They are accompanied by music which is as eclectic as their theatrical styles, ranging from Japanese Taiko to accordion and kazoo. Go True West throws Sam Shepard's script into a fun house, and shows us the images reflected back by the distorting mirrors. The audience laughs, enjoying the bizarre onstage antics of two talented performers, but what all this has to do with True West is rarely evident. To be sure, Fria's Austin and Simonetti's Lee are frequently competitive, but the outrageous repetitions of Shepard's lines ultimately deprive them of any deeper meaning, making them largely unnecessary to the show. The same effect could have been reached with an Absurdist reading of Hamlet or the phone book.

The one place where True West speaks clearly is in a scene in which the lines are not spoken at all. The set consists of two wooden chairs on either side of a small wooden end table. Austin, standing behind the table, takes three props from the end table, two plastic cups and a Rubik's Cube, and places them on his chair. He sets each down with a satisfying tap, in rhythm. Cup....cup....cube. He then moves them back to the table, again with the same rhythm. Cup....cup....cube. This continues. Cup....cup....cube. Cup....cup....cube. Cup....cup....SWIPE. And Lee has taken the cube, right on the beat. The act is stunning in its simplicity, and resonates perfectly with True West. Lee is, in the truest sense of the words, interfering with Austin's rhythm. As the scene goes on, Lee continues to taunt Austin, taking increasingly greater risks to undermine his work, and ultimately Austin's very foundations. It is a remarkable interpretation, and it explains why this show is based on True West rather than anything else.

That scene depends heavily on split-second timing, and it would not work if Fria and Simonetti were not expert physical comedians. They are, and they tack on a gratuitous piece of classic physical comedy at the end of the show. After all their fun with True West, Fria and Simonetti "clock out" and present one more offering: a recreation of the dinner scene from Buster Keaton's The Scarecrow. The scene, in which two men share a meal while the condiments are suspended above the table by strings, requires perfect timing and collaboration. Fria and Simonetti have it, deftly swinging each bottle and catching each other's throws with the greatest of ease. It is a beautiful recreation of some very difficult choreography. The fact that it has nothing to do with True West - relying, as it does, on a spirit of cooperation that is antithetical to the characters of Austin and Lee - does not make it any less delightful.

The Future Stars of Hollywood and Associates presents Go True West, created by Ben Simonetti, Joe Fria, Mami Arizono, and Anthony Sandoval, based on True West by San Shepard. Directed by Anthony Sandoval; Produced by FSHA. Stage Manager Kelly Doherty; Costume Design by Paule le Masson and Kara Feely; Sound Design by Eric Snodgrass; Lighting design by Michael Franco; Graphic Design by D Morris; Camera Operator G. J. Echternkamp.

Austin - Joe Fria
Lee - Ben Simonetti
Musical Accompaniment - Mami Arizono

Go True West plays at the Lillian Theater in Hollywood on Tuesdays through November 20, 2001. Admission is $10. For reservations, call (323) 221-6656.

Photo by D Morris

Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Los Angeles area.

-- Sharon Perlmutter

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