top of page

Review: True West, starring Paul Dano and Ethan Hawke

In this revival of Sam Shepard's True West, brothers Austin (Paul Dano) and Lee (Ethan Hawke) are reunited and finds themselves at odds over selling movie ideas to a Hollywood producer, ultimately resulting in a descent into madness from both brothers as their relationship changes and their mother's house practically falls apart around them.

By the end of the first act, the story being told onstage just seems like a story about two estranged brothers reconnecting, and could be classed as almost mundane. But as they begin to fight for dominance, especially where working with producer Saul Kimmer (Gary Wilmes) is concerned, it is revealed that both of them are faking it. Lee attempts to convince Saul that he is a free-spirit, living in the desert and having incredible experiences, while in reality he steals television sets to make money. And Austin, who is portrayed mostly as a responsible husband and father is revealed to be just as unreliable as their own father (who is alcoholic and out of the picture) when he gets drunk himself.

While Shepard's play, with strong themes of masculinity, likely resonated when it was originally produced in the early 1980s, it now feels incredibly dated, and drags at points. This does not seem to be the fault of the actors, who are working their hardest to portray Austin and Lee's relationship and spiral into madness. But the show as a whole comes off incredibly off-kilter, which is not helped by the size of the theater and the fact that the set is mostly contained in a large box at that does not take up the whole stage.

When the brothers' mother (played by Marylouise Burke in what is a fairly unrewarding role) returns to her house, the play begins to take on a rather dreamlike state, which it stays in through the ending, that finds the two brothers simply facing each other as the lights fade. The insanity of the play's second act and ending made it feel like it all should have been a dream, and a dissatisfying one where you wait for the characters to wake up.

bottom of page