In Sam Shepard’s True West, These Brothers are Keepers

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BY BRUCE APAR

When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!

The Ridgefield Theater Barn Presents
TRUE WEST
A Play by Sam Shepard
Directed by Erik Tonner
Production Manager, Stefanie Rosenberg
Assistant Producer, Monet Fleming
Friday, June 22 & Saturday, June 23, 2018
37 Halpin Lane
Ridgefield, Connecticut 06877
Order Tickets on Website
Presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.

Imagine a picnic. Now take it indoors. To a converted Connecticut barn. Add a black-box stage. Put on the stage a compelling show with ambitious production values. Add theater lovers. Mix vigorously. Voila! Yield one Ridgefield Theater Barn. Serves more than 70.

Differentiation is the soul of marketing, and the Theater Barn in Ridgefield has the above recipe all to itself, at least in my experience. It is one of the most unusual venues in which to enjoy live theater in the Hudson Valley.

The current production is Sam Shepard’s lean and mean look at sibling rivalry, True West, which ends its four-weekend run Saturday, June 23.

Brothers Lee (l, Anthony Barresi, Jr.) and Austin (Chris Luongo) catch up after several years apart. All photos by Paulette Layton. 

Staying in their mother’s house (Stephanie Schwartz) while she’s on vacation in Alaska, the boys aren’t quite prepared for her sudden return.

Shepard’s premise is simple enough: What might happen if two outwardly opposite brothers were pressed up against each other in a house — specifically, a kitchen — after being estranged for several years? Bookish Austin is a minimalist, reserved and diligent in his screenwriting craft. Boisterous Lee is a mess, snarling and predatory in his home-burgling craft. His specialty is appliance removal. 

The master playwright, ever curious about the hidden layers of human nature that are revealed through conflict, examines role reversal as a survival instinct. If this path over here isn’t leading to fulfillment, let’s see where this altogether divergent path may lead me. To salvation? Perhaps. To self-delusion? Even more perhaps.

Lee (Anthony Barresi, Jr.) racks his brawny brain to devise a movie plot as brother Austin takes notes.

This production is strongly anchored by the high-octane performance of Anthony Barresi, Jr. as Lee. He growls at the unacceptable notion that Austin isn’t willing to be his brother’s keeper. Mr. Barresi — whose visceral prowling about the compact stage effectively conveys an ever-present stench of danger — also convinces us that Lee is deceptively capable of emulating his prissy brother’s knack for creative invention. Propelled by his hand-to-mouth existence, Lee seems most comfortable creating interpersonal tension. 

The actor is a product of Howard Meyer’s Acting Program, in Pleasantville, which is a testament to that drama school’s founder and its faculty.

The rest of the cast — Chris Luongo as Austin, Dan Forman (another Howard Meyer student) as Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer, and Stephanie Schwartz as Mom — dutifully take their lead from Mr. Barresi’s alpha male Lee, like compliant planets orbiting around his blazing sun. 

The energy he invests in Lee makes the production fun to watch, but not so much for those easily cowed by the verbal and physical aggression that rides high in Shepard Country. 

The functional kitchen set, designed with impressive detail, gets a thorough workout, with a lot of clanging pots and pans and cans littering the floor.  

If neat, happy endings are your thing, take in a fluffy rom-com movie. If muscular live theater from a legendary dramatist is more your taste, drink in Sam Shepard’s True West.

Postscript: Call me grumpy (go ahead! my wife sometimes does), but unless you’re watching a musical with production numbers, it gets really old really quickly when an audience applauds between every scene. When it’s a drama, that chronic shattering of the fourth wall, which separates actors from audience, undermines the suspension of disbelief, and conspires against the playwright’s intentions to sustain a carefully calibrated mood. 

True West-Lee_Austin face down

Austin takes a break from writing.


ADDITIONAL TECHNICAL CREDITS
Assistant Stage Manager, Chhanda Som
Set Designer, Nick Kaye
Lighting Designer, Matt Pagliaro 

Costume Designer, Gina M. Tonner


Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bruce@aparpr.co or 914.275.6887.

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