True West creates distinct mood Riverside Theater show


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A small room filled with plants bursting out of pots and roaring Western music created a distinct mood when entering the Riverside Theater on Sept. 13 for a performance of Sam Shepard’s True West.

The playwright has long focused on realistic, multidimensional characters and settings in his work. True West is often considered his greatest work, along with his Pulitzer-Prize-winning Buried Child. After watching the Riverside’s production, it is clear why.

True West focuses on screenwriter Austin and his relationship with older brother Lee. When the boys’ mother takes a trip to Alaska, they are reunited as they house-sit. The play takes place in the kitchen of their mother’s home over a relatively short period of time.

The show examines the belief that the “grass is always greener,” while also focusing on family dynamics as the brothers are forced to work together.

Audiences can easily to relate to the habit of continually looking for something better, always reaching for what is just out of your grasp. Riverside’s actors, under the leadership of director Ron Clark, portray that struggle.

Austin (Tim Budd) portrays the annoyance that stems from the antics of siblings. The character also exhibits the reluctant willingness to help family members, while Sean Christopher Lewis (Lee) portrays family members taking advantage of that begrudging help.

However, at some points, the portrayals were overdone, and the performance became redundant.
As the entire action of the drama takes place in only one location, it was important the set be realistic and radiate the proper energy.

Scenic designer Shawn Ketchum Johnson created a set filled with small details to promote the idea of a lived-in space. Budd and Lewis always had something to fiddle with or rearrange, such as a knickknack, which is realistically the case with many houses owned by grandparents. The audience is so close to the stage in this theater, with only eight rows, and so this attention to detail was especially important.

Lighting designer Courtney Schmitz Watson stole the show with fantastic lighting that allows the audience to grasp the passage of time and follow the action of the performance. Every lighting cue was spot on, driving the action forward. A window lies in the center of the stage, and the angle of the lighting was crucial for the audience to understand how long the two men had been at a particular task.

But the lighting and set design are not enough to entertain the attention of every audience member. If you are looking to see a positive, cheerful show, True West is not for you. However, if you are interested in exploring the changing relationships among individuals, the show will certainly leave you with something to think about.

True West

When: Today through Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m., continuing through Sept. 30

Where: Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert

Admission: $15 for students, $28 for general public

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