Austin (William Humphrey) is a screenwriter who’d just like to get on with his latest project, but he keeps getting distracted by his brother, Lee (Isaiah Di Lorenzo), a small-time criminal who seems incapable of keeping his mouth shut.
Their bickering is as constant as the chirping of crickets that provides much of the sonic backdrop to “True West,” the Sam Shepard play running through April 28 in a brilliant and often hilarious St. Louis Actors’ Studio production.
The play revolves around the complicated relationship between the polite and bookish Austin and the rude and lowbrow Lee. Austin can’t help but admire his brother’s wild spirit, and Lee envies Austin’s status as a storyteller.
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the play, ranked among Shepard’s finest achievements.
So they both welcome an opportunity to work together. But ultimately, their differences threaten to be irreconcilable. Will they come to an understanding — or come to blows?
Shepard, who died in 2017 at age 73, was among the foremost playwrights of the last half-century, and “True West” explores his signature theme: the contrast between the comforts of civilization and the lure of the American West.
Director William Whitaker pulls off the difficult trick of grounding the play in realism while gradually opening the door to the absurd. That strategy benefits mightily from Patrick Huber’s set design, featuring a kitchen so nondescript that it ironically serves as the perfect setting for the increasingly bizarre proceedings.
Humphrey and Di Lorenzo turn in finely tuned performances that entice us into a world that’s at once intriguingly off-kilter and sneakily dangerous. The two achieve a chemistry pitched somewhere between Vladimir and Estragon in “Waiting for Godot” and Oscar and Felix in “The Odd Couple.”
Rounding out the excellent cast are William Roth as a Hollywood producer and Susan Kopp as the brothers’ mom.
“True West” is among Shepard’s best-known works, and this must-see production makes a persuasive case for its enduring significance.