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Review of True West in Staples, MN

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Quote of the Day:  Sam Shepard ranks as one of Americas most celebrated dramatists…Sam wrote “True West” (1980), using a more traditional narrative to depict a rivalry between two estranged brothers. First performed at the Magic Theater in San Francisco, “True West” was revived on numerous occasions and starred several high-profile actors over the years, including Gary Sinese, John Malkovich, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly. from the official website for Sam Shepard.

truewest

Production photo by Don Hoffmann, Matthew Olsen as Lee and Chris Olsen as his brother Austin. True West.

I watched True West at the Centennial Auditorium in Staples, MN last night, and I wondered if some of the content was autobiographical. After reading a bit about the playwright/actor Sam Shepard, I suspect the play has flavors of his own life. If you have a sibling, you have experienced some of the conflicts and pull and tug that these two characters portray. It is a bit dark, and yet, has humorous moments. It brings to mind the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, brothers vying for attention, fame, and their father’s love. In this case, the father is somewhere out in the desert. At first, the older brother Lee is the one living in the desert, stuck in the desolation of it all, interrupting his younger brother who has great expectations for himself as a playwright/screenwriter. I giggled at the opening scene where Lee keeps “bugging” Austin and saying, “Is this distracting you?” Been there. Besides Austin’s desire for his brother to get out of his hair and let him work, he needs him to get out of the way so he can meet with the big Hollywood producer to sell his story. Lee has the potential to be worse than a distraction. Ah, and the rivalry and conflicts escalate. By the time my friend Dawn Timbs  enters the stage, playing their mother, I hope that she will knock some sense into her boys, but she is so broken by the events of her own life that she leaves them to clean up their own messes.

True West is an adult-themed play with harsh language (although not over-the-top) and some violence. What intrigues me is that the story the brothers are writing together is an analogy of their own relationship and journey through this life. I wanted to see the outcome of their labors. Where is that movie playing? Real life brothers Matthew and Christopher Olsen, both graduates from Staples High School, are back in the area playing opposite each other, under the direction of their own father Kevin Olsen and Don Hoffmann. Rob Freelove plays the vacillating Hollywood producer. You think, at first, that Austin has the more sensible life, taking his career seriously, not succumbing to the temptations and distractions of the world. But, when roles reverse and we get to know Lee a little better, we are reminded of the old adage, “You can’t play the blues until you’ve lived them,” or as the Chef quoted a sign hanging in a pawn shop, “A guitar can’t play the blues until it’s been in hock at least once.” You have to live a life in order to write a life. You have to be willing to take risks and feel.

I hope that all my theatre friends in the surrounding area take the drive over to Staples to watch this play, support these actors and their community theatre. It’s a story that gets you thinking. My one audience note: they could pick up the pace a little in line delivery. My one burning question: How many manual typewriters were sacrificed in the production of this play, as well as the unsuspecting 9-iron? And, I am suddenly craving toast.

True West is playing at the Centennial Stage in Staples, MN, Friday, August 15, 7:30 pm and again on Sunday, 2:30 in the afternoon. Co-produced by Wadena Madhatters Community Theatre and Lamplighter Community Theatre of Staples.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Describe your relationship with a sibling, close relative or friend.

  1. “You have to live a life in order to write a life”. GREAT advice!! Sounds like a very interesting play. I need to see more theatre work. Not since college have I really enjoyed some good plays. It’s a little tough around here but I know there are ways around the “uncultured” south in which I live 🙂 I always enjoy your reviews!

    Happy Monday!
    Jen

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