Go West, Young Man, in 'True West'
Lachlan Sands | On 22, Aug 2016
The bright California desert becomes a mirror for the dusty Australian outback in the Brisbane Powerhouse’s production of Samuel Shepard’s ‘True West’.
The play, presented by the Powerhouse in conjunction with Troy Armstrong Management, Thomas Larkin and Annette Box, is a powerful meditation on the limits of familial love, the meaning of masculinity and the irresistible ache of wide open spaces.
‘True West’ first premiered in San Francisco in 1980, and has seen success with a Broadway staging, multiple revivals and touring productions, but has been little seen in Australia. Director Marcel Dorney said he wanted to make audiences more aware of the play and Shepard’s work in general, describing him as one of the great American realists in the tradition of Tennessee Williams. For Dorney, the play’s setting is the perfect allegory for Australians’ relationship to the outback.
“This is actually an incredibly specific story, with an incredibly specific cultural psychosis that we share as white Australians but have no real words for. But the way we conceive and dream of our wide open spaces and the unclaimed heart of the continent, the mystic aspect of the outback, is something which literally is a disease in the mind of these two characters.”
“There are so many plays like this, because it’s an incredibly prevalent psychic disease in our culture, but what sets this one apart is because it analyses this toxic masculinity with utter, brutal clarity and it shows it as ridiculous, as absurd, without depriving us for a moment of sympathy and without compromising the tragedy of the play’s ending.”
Thomas Larkin, playing the menacing older brother Lee, was instrumental in getting the production off the ground.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the way that we as a society determine how boys become men, that rite of passage. Because in Australia we kind of have a lack of that passage, it leads to a breakdown to what it means to be a man. I guess it’s that male struggle that’s interested me for a while and that I wanted to explore.”
The performances of both Larkin and Julian Curtis, playing the sensitive writer brother Austin, are nuanced and complex, both wisely resisting the temptation to ham up Shepard’s dialogue. Genevieve Ganner’s minimalist, ‘60s-influenced art deco set and Jason Glenwright’s bright, uncompromising lighting are almost clinical, forcing the characters to confront their emotions without anywhere to hide.
This is all in service of the play’s clear-eyed, unforgiving deconstruction of our conceptions of manhood, of nature and of family. The characters in ‘True West’ may be found wanting, but this production is an emphatic success.
When Wednesday 17 to Sunday 28 August; check website for times
Where Brisbane Powerhouse
Cost $46 – $55
More Information Visit the website here
Images: Brisbane Powerhouse