This Week in Theater
Review by Rose Desena
I take Sam Shepard very seriously; I have been a fan since his early days at the Magic Theater in San Francisco. When the publicist for the Stages of Gray Theater asked me to review “True West” I was elated because it has been a while since I experienced the Shepard Tsunami, and I was a little surprised because very few theaters can get the rights to produce his work. I had never been to Stages of Gray Theater so I was very curious and more than up for a night with my man Sam.
True West is a gut-wrenching tale of two estranged brothers. One a petty thief and drifter (Lee) and the other a Hollywood screenwriter (Austin). They come together at their mother’s house in the desert where Austin is house sitting. Austin is using the seclusion of the desert to get some work done on his new script and, he had a meeting with a new producer for the script.
Expectantly, his brother Lee barges in one afternoon disturbing his self-imposed solitude. Lee is cunning and manipulative which Shepard uses as a complex protagonist. Somehow Lee manages to get in the way of Austin’s relationship with his producer, and Lee turns the tables on Austin by securing a script writing deal for himself.
Needless to say Austin is a bit pissed off. The anger and hostility these two men have towards each other fills the stage as they reach deep into their morrow. Kevin Ferris (Austin) and Alexander Nifong (Lee) have a good grip on their characters and played off each other beautifully. They both hold your attention as they pour themselves onto the stage, screaming and drinking their way into oblivion.
Randall Gray (Director and Artistic Director) knows his stuff and from his introduction I could surmise that he is a true Shepard fan. However, I felt this project was just too ambitious for this new theater company. I want a large stage for Shepard’s plays; there exhausting and I feel you need the space between the actors and the audience. Gray tried to use too different casts one with a traditional approach and one group more edgy. I was confused by that because I think you need to take a firm stand on your vision and go with that. It also created a problem when two of the actors dropped out mixing the two groups. Honestly the supporting actors just didn’t work. Wendy Rostker (Mother) and Cliff Ingram (Producer) were disappointing.
I believe there was a last minute cast change for one of them so I understand that it can be difficult, but it was as if they just practiced their lines for the first time 10 minutes before show time. Shepard requires a strong commitment from his characters and every single line must be savored and poured on the stage with intense heat. I saw little of that from Rostker or Ingram.
I have to say this was a good attempt even though it had flaws and I admire Gray’s guts for taking it on. As a patron I would keep an eye on the Stages of Gray Theater particularly if you live in Pasadena. It takes time to build a strong company, but with such a passionate Art Director I think it will grow into something special.
Photo Credit: Randall Gray
Writer: Sam Shepard
Director: Randall Gray
Alexander Nofong, Kevin Ferris, Wendy Rostker, Cliff Ingram
Runs thru the Friday and Saturday @8pm
Stages of Gray Theater, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena Ca. 91109