With a casting call sent out for toasters earlier this summer, I had no idea what to expect with Post Productions play True West, which opened this past weekend at Shō Art, Spirit & Performance. The Sam Shepard classic is the first accessible and more conventional production of the new company’s inaugural season and judging by the standing room-only crowds, it’s what Windsor’s been craving.
This revival of the 1980 production was full throttle adrenaline on opening night. By the end of the show, the stage was covered in garbage, dishes, empty bottles and the cast was panting with exhaustion – and they’ll do it all again this weekend for round two. Something tells me even Shepard himself would have been proud of the effort.
True West examines the relationship between Austin, a screenwriter, and his older brother Lee. It is set in the kitchen of their mother’s home 40 miles east of Los Angeles. Austin is house-sitting while their mother is in Alaska, and there he is confronted by his brother, who proceeds to bully his way into staying at the house and using Austin’s car. In addition, the screenplay which Austin is pitching to his connection in Hollywood, he somehow gets taken over by the pushy con-man tactics of Lee, and the brothers find themselves forced to cooperate in the creation of a story that will make or break both their lives. In the process, the conflict between the brothers creates a heated situation in which their roles as successful family man and nomadic drifter are somehow reversed, and each man finds himself admitting that he had somehow always wished he were in the other’s shoes.
The dynamics in this show are certainly real, especially for those of us who’ve come head-to-head with a sibling at some point in our lives. After Lee persuades the Hollywood producer to buy his idea for a movie, the brothers almost instantly switch places; Lee starts acting like an anxiety-ridden writer, and Austin turns to petty crime (and this is where the toasters come into play).
Often funny and always relatable, Joey Wright and Dylan MacDonald made for perfect brothers at odds with each other.
Wright was very timid and nerdy at the start, giving Austin a very Ivy league approach, but by the beginning of the second act, after what appeared to be a rather lengthy night of alcohol, Wright flipped a switch and Austin became something like Jim Carey’s Hank from Me, Myself & Irene – a dual personality pushed to the edge. He’d had enough. All I can say is that this was the craziest case of toaster abuse I’d ever seen in my life.
Up to that point, Wright was so timid that he seemed like a second banana to Dylan MacDonald’s Lee, but from that point on, he stole the show, wrapped it up in toast and served it on a platter. This gave the show a good balance of equal doses of Wright and MacDonald and provided one of the finest examples of role reversals I’d ever seen.
MacDonald was consistently entertaining throughout the entire show, even when he wrapped himself in trepidation as the writer of the play. He gave Lee a rustic redneck vibe that at times came across like a cocky Kid Rock and other times like Nicolas Cage’s “Hi” McDunnough from Raising Arizona. It wasn’t hard to believe that his character had come from an odd sabbatical in the desert when the show started.
Supplementing the cast was Ian D. Loft as the Hollywood producer and Cindy Pastorius as the mom. Loft resembled Michael Buffer as Grant Walbridge in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and you could almost hear a hefty “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble” when he told Austin that he wanted to produce Lee’s story.
Pastorius was great as the unsuspecting mom. She received plenty of oh’s and “my gosh’s” as she entered the stage at the end of the show amidst the giant mess the boys created. I think the audience was expecting more outrage at the state her home was in, but that wasn’t to be – Shepard decided to leave her disoriented by the mess and rather fragile.
The Windsor production of True West was fortunate to have an entirely original musical score composed and performed by local music multi-instrumentalist George Manury. He gave the show a unique musical vibe that heightened the drama. The music was most poignant during set changes when the cast and crew playfully manipulated the set while Manury’s music engulfed the stage. The production benefitted greatly from this original score and I can’t picture the show without it.
Martin Ouellette produced another fantastic set, basically spanning the length of Sho’s space with a gorgeous retro kitchen. The unique design gave everyone in the audience a very close and intimate view. Props also go to Kris Simic who designed the best program of the year, with a great design, unique binding and plenty of colour.
True West is by far and away the best of Post Productions debut season. Producer/Director duo Michael Potter and Michael O’Reilly reached new heights with this production and audiences seem to agree. The show runs for three more performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights (Oct. 19, 20 and 21)
Photos by Elena Pastorius