True West (HSTheatre) at fortyfivedownstairs - 110 minutes, including a 20-minute interval
Updated: Apr 23
Cain and Abel – biblical brothers at loggerheads.
In American playwright Sam Shepard’s searing, black comedic drama it is well educated Hollywood screenwriter Austin (Justin Hosking) and his older brother Lee (Mark Diaco) – a drifter, thief and drinker – in conflict.
Photos by Greg Elms
The pair hasn’t seen each other in five years and find themselves together in their mother’s (Fiona Stewart) Los Angeles home while she is holidaying in Alaska.
She is separated from her good for nothing, alcoholic husband – the boys’ father – who lives in the desert.
Lee – who has just spent three months or more wandering around the Mojave Desert – is a truly fearsome character, who has nothing to his name and is always scheming.
Austin has a wife and children 800 kilometres away.
Lee continually threatens and challenges Austin, who is hard at work on a screenplay he has prepared for Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer (Kevin Summers).
Lee pleads with Austin to borrow his car for the day, but Lee knows Austin is up to no good, so he refuses to let him do so.
That is until he realises that is the only way he can get some alone time with Kimmer.
The problem is that Lee arrives home while Austin is still with Kimmer.
Lee shanghaies the conversation, which results in a decided shift in the family dynamic.
Their relationship spirals further out of control. Sibling rivalry is alive and well and suddenly the West holds newfound appeal to Austin.
True West is a superbly written, produced and directed work, the full impact of which hasn’t been lost more than 40 years after it was first performed. The play was nominated for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Mark Diaco sizzles in his menacing portrayal of Lee. He channels anger, aggression and angst with distinction.
Justin Hosking transitions impressively from considered, measured and intimidated to take on his brother’s characteristics, as Austin’s fall from grace moves full circle.
Kevin Summers makes an immediate impression when he enters the frame, readily establishing Kimmer’s instinctive persona, before his U-turn.
Fiona Stewart provides dark comic relief.
Set designer Peter Mumford has done a fine job crafting a neat kitchen and living room setting (suffice to say it doesn’t end up that way), where all the action takes place.
Like the rest of the piece, there is an innate authenticity about it.
With strong direction from Lee Mason, True West exudes power, punch and gravitas.
* Notably HSTheatre has done something extra special with this work.
When Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly starred in the Broadway production in the year 2000, they switched roles. So, too, do Mark Diaco and Justin Hosking.
It is a stimulating device and, of course, it depends upon the night you attend as to who plays which brother.
I intend to go back to witness the switcheroo for myself.
When you have seen such stellar performances with Diaco as Lee and Hosking as Austin, it is hard to imagine them wearing different hats. I am intrigued and excited at the prospect.
True West is playing at fortyfivedownstairs until 7th May, 2023.