Glasgow Journal: Review of True West, Citizens Theatre

The blinds blink, illuminating an ordinary, domestic scene: a table strewn with papers, coffee cups cluttering counters, the blank brightness of a Californian morning. Seize it. This familiarity is True West’s only certainty, scarred as it becomes with insanity.

Entering this dignified, maternal home of responsibility shoots Lee, the reckless antidote to perfect brother Austin. Lee is ragged, drifting, uncontrollable; the humorous hate-fuelled antagonist of the strict characters Austin taps confidently onto paper. An aspiring screenwriter, Austin almost arrives at the valley of Dreams – the American ideal – but True West’s intrinsic direction is towards the sand, sea, to tears, to suffocation, to drowning.

Despite the cinematic brightness of the domestic backdrop, the laughter is as black as the shadows or the decaying leaves of Mom’s prized plants. Intoxicated, hilarious scenes are carefully balanced with the increasing murderous tension between the brothers. Natural decline serves as a precursor to sibling disintegration as Lee and Austin (L.A.) morph into one: the asphyxiating city, the suppression of earth, the suffocation of American ethics.

These ideals are transatlantic.True West premiered in San Francisco in 1980, steadily attaining appraisal and arriving to Glasgow in 2013 under the experienced direction of Phillip Breen. With a small but superb cast including Eugene O’Hare and Alex Ferns, audiences have immediately identified with the stark, humorous realism; perhaps seeing in the dialogue the illusion of Glaswegian banter.

The climax is a whisky-brimmed blowout; a literal banquet that the audience can smell and decipher. Senses are lit; brotherhood is burned, but the true beauty is in the static confusion. True West is not simply a tale of siblings, it is the exploration of a country’s personal and patriarchal history, with a good slice of sadism on the side. Laughter is guaranteed, but beyond sound lies a frightening conception of what remains at the end of the compass arrow.

 

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