True West

April 26, 2018

in Plays

Play (1980)
by Sam Shepard

Directed by Daniel Bourque

Hub Theatre Company of Boston
First Church in Boston
Back Bay, Boston
April 13 – 28, 2018

With Victor Shopov (Lee), Bob Mussett (Austin), Robert Orzalli (Saul), Maureen Adduci (Mom)

Lee Austin

Victor Shopov as Lee
Bob Mussett as Austin
in “True West”
Photo: Alex Aroyan
Courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

An intimately riotous production of the noteworthy Sam Shepard play about two brothers pitted against one another in literary and visceral death-struggles.

Austin (Bob Mussett) is a successful Hollywood writer staying at his mother’s home in the L.A. area when Lee (Victor Shopov), his unpredictable and ne’er-do-well brother, drops in. From the outset Lee tries to tear into Austin’s all-business equanimity at every turn. Austin is preparing for a meeting with Saul (Robert Orzalli), a Hollywood producer with whom he wants to undertake a project. Saul enters the scene and Lee, instead of disappearing, is all over Saul. A golf game is scheduled and before long many tables have turned.

This very funny play exploits to the hilt the visceral riches to be found in the face-off between prim-and-proper Austin and devil-may-care Lee. While the conflict might have been portrayed simply as a contest between opposing types, playwright Shepard has morphed everything in a way that makes the plot and the characters continuously bending, rendering not only an evocative, but a fascinating, result.

Lee is a maniac, but clearly the sort of maniac who appeals to Hollywood. His seat-of-the-pants, I don’t need to actually write to be a writer attitude fits in, unexpectedly but perfectly, with Saul’s Hollywood-driven mentality. Who cares about form, craft, adeptness, when sheer gutsiness is at stake? Lee lays all of that out on the table before Saul who gobbles it up.

Whether this choice, in fact, is strictly a question of Saul’s aesthetics or whether he has simply been forced, by virtue of a bet during a golf game, to do Lee’s bidding, is part of the charade, and it doesn’t really matter. The point is that the ground upon which Austin has so firmly planted himself is now, in Lee’s orbit, as shifty and uncertain as a California earthquake.

When Mom (Maureen Adduci) comes on the scene, the hilarity continues. Austin, now, by dint of shock and awe, has transmuted into a Lee-type apostle of Dionysus. Grabbing Lee in a fit of rage, the two scramble in a death-grip as Mom casually peruses the scene. As she comments blithely on the goings-on with blind indifference, it almost entirely eclipses the actual violence taking place. This gut-wrenching narrative move of maternal inattention blisters above the literal violence.

This wonderful production features an array of brilliant actors and uses them to the hilt.

The versatile and adept Victor Shopov, sleek in many other roles, here embodies the complete maniacal and physical lunacy of Lee. He oozes ferocity and capped madness as he careens around the set; one watches as he sets about wielding a golf club as a scythe, leaving demolished typewriters and toasters in his wake. It’s a frighteningly entertaining performance.

Bob Mussett, as the beautifully constrained Austin, offers his delightful transformation, under Lee’s tutelage, into a perfect rouĂ©. Mussett does a fine job of conveying the devastation that Austin feels by being overshadowed by his wild brother while imitating his behavior.

In the less visceral supporting roles of Saul and Mom, Robert Orzilli and Maureen Adducci step on the pedals to produce weird harmonies that make the entire quartet rock. Orzilli is sleazy but appropriately not too much so – he has to make a believable case for going all out for Lee’s nuttiness and he rises to the occasion admirably. In the coda, Adduci does a great job of providing the potently seasoned maternal additive to the toxic soup.

Hub Theatre is the only dramatic game in town where one pays the admission fee of one’s choice. Catching this superb production at that rate makes it a deal that truly cannot be beat.

– BADMan

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