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Theater review: 'True West' at the Lyric Theatre

September 16, 2010 |  6:00 pm

Truewest Two brothers, one a nominally successful screenwriter, the other an itinerant petty thief, propel "True West," presented by the Whitmore Eclectic Theatre Company in its inaugural season at the Lyric Theatre. Before Sam Shepard's celebrated dark comedy of human duality ends, these siblings have become each other, pulling American contradictions into focus.

Austin (Andre Verderame), the "good" son, is first seen pecking at a (doomed) typewriter in the kitschy kitchen unit that centers Jacob Whitmore's effective set. Enter casually threatening Lee (Andrew Patton), and his return to their mother's home quickly indicates that the men are lifelong antagonists.

That crystallizes after Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer (Michael Genovese) arrives to confab with Austin on the love story he's pitching. Smooth-talking Lee snags a golf date with Saul, sells him on a trashy western yarn, Austin starts drinking, and the role reversals accelerate. By the climactic advent of Mom (Joan McCrae), her toaster-strewn house is as shattered as unseen Dad and the mythos of the West, her sons locked in a fratricidal face-off.

 It has been perhaps Shepard's most accessible play since its 1980 premiere at San Francisco's Magic Theatre, and this "True West" counts assets in designer Robert Primes' suave lighting and the interstitial voiceovers (by the playwright).

 But director Aliah Whitmore's well-intended staging is uneven, here stylized, there naturalistic, and ending scenes with actors visibly exiting doesn't exactly build narrative tension. The hard-working cast is still finding their character arcs, resulting in schematic segments that waver between competent and collegiate. Shepard fans can check it out, but this dutiful reading seems more exercise than exorcism.

-- David C. Nichols

"True West," Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 3. $20. (818) 826-3609 or Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Photo: Michael Genovese, Andrew Patton, Andre Verderame, Joan McCrae. Credit: Aliah Whitmore