In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column, I review a new Broadway revival of Sam Shepard’s True West. Here’s an excerpt.
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Sooner or later, most serious playwrights who do hard time in Hollywood end up writing a play about the experience. What’s more, these plays often prove to be popular. This stands to reason, seeing as how most of us are fascinated—in spite of ourselves—by that unreal city and its peculiar ways. That’s what happened to Sam Shepard, who came back from Hollywood with “True West,” a rambling tale of two feuding brothers who collaborate on a screenplay. First produced in 1980, “True West” has always been a magnet for talented actors…
Shepard’s once-formidable reputation, however, had gone into eclipse long before his death in 2017, and even “True West,” which was last seen on Broadway in 2000, is no longer widely known to younger theatergoers. For that reason, it will be interesting to see how the Roundabout Theatre Company’s new Broadway revival, which stars Paul Dano and Ethan Hawke, fares at the box office. My guess is that it will do pretty well, since Messrs. Dano and Hawke are biggish names in the screen trade. Moreover, they’re both giving vivid performances, the kind that get talked about. But how does the play itself hold up after all these years? Is it as good as we remember?
The answer is yes and no. The first act is a tight-knit piece of storytelling based on a conventional but nonetheless promising premise: Austin (Mr. Dano), a quiet, self-contained young man who has set up shop as a screenwriter and is on the verge of landing his first big deal, is muscled off the road to riches by Lee (Mr. Hawke), his ne’er-do-well older brother, a hard-drinking petty thief who shows up without warning on his doorstep, moves into his suburban home and starts to disrupt his life. By intermission, you’re set up for a payoff that could either be comic or horrific—or both. That, however, is when things start to unravel….
Mr. Hawke, who has the flashier of the two parts, comes on strong, occasionally over-egging the pudding (you get the feeling that he’s enjoying himself a little too much) but nonetheless giving a performance in which you can smell the anger and envy leaching out of his pores. Mr. Dano, by contrast, is both subtler and more interesting: Here as in “Love & Mercy,” he plays a character whose bland surface serves as camouflage for roiling interior turmoil, and everything he does in “True West” is excitingly surprising….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano talk about True West: