Plan your weekend: Two plays worth seeing

Posted on 24 Feb 2011 at 5:15pm

There was no room in the print edition this week or last to review all the shows I saw over the past few weeks, so I wanted to give a shout-out to two that deserves to be seen during this, their closing weekends: True West at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas and Creditors at Broken Gears Theatre Project.

True West, Sam Shapard’s modern reinterpretation of the Cain and Abel myth, pits Austin (Mike Schrader), a dour, responsible, by-the-rules screenwriter, against Lee (Gregory Lush), his manipulative numbskull petty crook brother. Lee considers himself an average American, which doesn’t speak very well of our culture. Austin, though, it just as deluded, with lofty, high-brow ideas for a script he’s pitching to an independent producer (T.A. Taylor). Lee perceived Hollywood as no better than he — a hustle is a hustle. Slowly, the brothers’ roles shift, creating tension and ample amounts of comedy.

Lee is a perfectly awful character, the unbridled id with access to a car. He uses his own version of logic illogically (think all those “deep” conversations lorded over by the preachy morons on reality TV) and you feel for Austin’s plight. Lush handles that dichotomy of amiable and infuriating expertly, and brings an aggressive physicality to the part (he really destroys that typewriter with a golf club — I hate to see a classic so brutalized). If Schrader’s desperation is less engaging, it’s not due to him, but to Austin’s self-destructiveness.

Shepard isn’t performed as often as he deserves to be. His plays don’t fit in easy pigeonholes of comedy, drama, romance. He’s all things, and True West is a superior achievement.

Creditors is a  very different play in many way — 90 years older than True West — but no less relevant. This taut three-character drama is a shockingly contemporary and breathlessly intimate psychological thriller. Although it pre-dates Freud, Strindberg’s dissection of the human will is unnervingly accurate.

A frail artist (Evan Fuller) recovers at a resort with the support of a fellow traveler (Elias Taylorson), who probes the man about his unfulfilling relationship with his wife (Meredith Morton). With laser accuracy, he dissects the dynamics of their relationship and devises a ploy for making him see the pointlessness of his marriage. But things aren’t what they full appear to be.

Broken Gears, located in a rustic 30-seat theater across from the Grapevine Bar, is the perfect setting for this claustrophobic investigation into revenge and suspicion. The characters rarely talk above a hushed conversation, which creates unnerving closeness not just to the actors, but to the emotions. Director Rene Moreno keeps it clean and unfussy, with minimal movement that seems not stiff but still.

All the actors are exceptional, with Fuller seeming to undergo actual asthmatic attacks and Taylorson’s professorial demeanor wholly convincing. SO intense is the action that at a recent performance, a sudden crashing noise offstage (intentional) caused the entirety of the audience to startle. It grabs you by the short hairs. Catch it before it’s gone.

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