Play review from an actresses’ perspective

Kelly Novak

The student-run Fourth Wall Theater Group performed “True West,” over the weekend, an extremely odd play by the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Sam Shepard.

As a former theatre major, acting veteran of 10 years and a Metropolitan Theatre Award nominee in New Jersey, I attended the play out of pure curiosity because Sam Shepard is a peculiar man. His other most notable work is “Buried Child,” which involves a random baby corpse being carried around and an amputee who cuts his sibling’s hair in his sleep. Needless to say, I was intrigued to see “True West.”

Directed by senior Jacob Nadeau, “True West” is the story of two brothers, Austin and Lee, as they housesit for their mother who is on vacation in Alaska. Austin is a screenwriter trying to write his next big project, while Lee is the bum of the family. However, Lee ends up stealing the spotlight by trying to write a script of his own. Tension ensues, including arguments and screaming matches, but my question is: what is the point?

Right off the bat, I don’t get the feel that the two are brothers. Lee, played by freshman Ryan Sheehan, and Austin, played by sophomore Paul Bronsan seem to not be experienced with the relationship siblings have. With siblings, there is an annoyance a sibling feels, yet a concern he can’t help but show, and I didn’t see that in their performance.  The two were more like mere strangers who were angry at one another.

In my years of acting, I’ve learned everything must be done with a purpose, and I didn’t get that sense from this show. The play is dialogue driven, so the actors really needed to dig deep into their characters and find out who they are, where it’s appropriate to yell or pause, where it’s appropriate to sit or stand.

Sheehan’s aimless pacing throughout the beginning was distracting, and both Sheehan and Bronsan seemed to be yelling for no reason throughout the entire show. The pauses were also awkwardly long, causing me to think the actors forgot a line. There needs to be a reason to yell or pause; the clues are in the dialogue, and I feel the nuances of the script were lost on this cast.

Before the show began, the director warned the audience there would be “moving parts,” meaning the cast would throw things around–and throw things they did.

It started with a beer can, then a telephone, then pieces of bread, then the smashing of a laptop. At one point, the whole set was torn apart as Sheehan’s character was looking for a pen.

Shepard wrote in the stage directions to throw things around and destroy the set, but he should have realized this terrible case of unresolved gestalt. When there are objects on the stage that distract the audience, the audience is no longer focused on the dialogue, but the things on the ground. The audience is now shifting their attention to hoping the actors don’t trip on them or wondering if they will be picked up. These random rampages of throwing objects felt extremely unnecessary, only there to mix up the endless dialogue.

I do have to give credit to the actors, including Alan Johnson as producer Saul and Lauren Manna as Mom, who were able to memorize pages of dialogue and deliver without any mistakes. Also, since the production is entirely student-run, they had to balance busy schedules to bring this show together

Overall, though, I wasn’t thrilled with the choice of performing “True West,” but the cast and crew did the best they could to bring a bizarre script to life.