Cain and Abel meet Greek mythology when two brothers clash in True West, the Sam Shepard play coming next to The Verona Studio.
The notable play, finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, tracks the explosive reunion between a business-oriented screenwriter Austin (Seth Allen) and his older brother Lee, (Lance Nuttman) a lawless petty thief, which results in a testosterone-fueled, violent act of creation that neither man could have achieved on his own.
It’s not a quiet journey. “You go down to the L.A. Police Department there and ask them what kinda people kill each other most. What do you think they’d say?” Lee asks in Act One.
The answer is: “Family people. Brothers.”
Jenni Bertels, who directs the play, also serves on Verona Studio’s board. Director of Love Letters in 2014 and Dead Man’s Cell Phone in 2015, Bertels can relate to the struggles of making ideas actual things. “Every production is the act of creation,” she says. “We start with a script; just words on a page. We make this text come to life through the director’s vision: blocking, determining playwright intent, meaning, and subtext, and add costumes, set, and lights.”
By Sam Shepard
Directed by Jenni Bertels
February 18 – March 5, 2015
The Verona Studio
Reed Opera House
189 Liberty St. NE, Suite 215
Often called a black comedy, and described as “a rambunctious and spontaneous tale about sibling rivalry and the cronyism of popular culture,” by Mel Gussow in The New York Times, the play was written in 1980. At that time Shepard was resident playwright at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, a 37-year old who had already had over 30 plays produced in New York before the age of 30. The year before he had received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play, Buried Child, which was also created at the Magic Theatre and which also involved violence between family members.
Seth Allen will take on the role of Austin for Verona’s production. Allen, who serves on the company’s board of directors and is Vice President and Co-founder of the company, directed the theatre’s initial play, Lonesome Hollow in 2013 and Venus in Fur in 2014.
“All of the productions at the Verona Studio are acts of creation,” says Allen, who also acted in Uncle Vanya in the company’s production directed by Randall Tosh last year. “The sheer number of different artists needed to bring a script to the stage is challenging, and each production has its own set of obstacles. I have absolute trust in all of our directors, set designers, marketing material artists, actors and lighting designers, etc… The creating is in the solving the obstacles. And we try to give them the space and support to do that.“
Bertels says that developing True West, a play where Allen and Nuttman appear in each of all nine scenes, is something that “requires a lot of work and determination.”
Previous incarnations of the play have seen the combative, rival brothers played by Gary Sinise and John Malcovich, by Peter Boyle and Tommy Lee Jones and, in a 2000 Broadway production, Philip Seymore Hoffman and John C. Reilly, who alternated roles during the run of the show.
Shepard himself has said of True West, “I wanted to write a play about double nature, one that wouldn’t be symbolic or metaphorical or any of that stuff. I just wanted to give a taste of what it feels like to be two-sided. It’s a real thing, double nature. I think we’re split in a much more devastating way than psychology can ever reveal. It’s not so cute. Not some little thing we can get over.”