by Sam Shepard
25 April -10 May 2003
Most of us are better
acquainted with Sam Shepard as an actor than as a playwright. The fact
is, however, he wrote many of his more interesting plays well before his
1983 breakthrough role as test pilot Chuck Yeager in “The Right
Stuff”. It was as far back as the Summer of 1980 that True
West enjoyed its first outing on the stage of San Francisco’s
West is a good
example of Shepard’s allegorical style of storytelling. He often
prefers the use of symbols to soften the much in evidence naked realism.
The storyline here bears little focus on verisimilitude, but is rather
revealed in extreme relationship deconstruction and family conflict.
The story is driven
by the malevolent relationship of two brothers, who come together to housesit
for their mother when she takes an Alaskan vacation. Real-life brothers
David and Gerry MacKay are cast as the dysfunctional siblings Austin and
Lee. As with many sibling pairs, they are poles apart in temperament and
character. Elder brother Lee is volatile and boorish. Austin, on the other
hand is stable, and compared to the mercurial Lee, quite colourless.
While some initial
tension is displayed, it's hardly more malicious than what we might expect
from an "Odd Couple" routine. But the contempt the two have
harboured begins to surface to reveal a more vicious side to their natures.
Eventually we learn that the deep resentment is not so much for each other,
but for themselves in the regret of their own choices and an envy of the
other’s lifestyle. The action takes place in suburban Los Angeles
in the late 1970s, but it could be just about anywhere, even in our home,
right now. The message Shepard’s play offers is that there is something
of Lee and Austin within all of us.
The dichotomy between
these boys hardly needed visual emphasis, but Karen Mathews obviously
decided to go for broke anyway in the costume selection. Lee dons a dirty
old raincoat and a badly stained T-shirt, while Austin wears tailored
slacks and a neat cardigan.
comedy may have been written for a small venue, and Jamie Norris makes
this coup de theatre dovetail perfectly into the sixty-seat Havana
theatre. Likewise, set designer John Taylor manages to recreate a typical
suburban 70s-style kitchen and fit it onto such a small stage without
it seeming at all crammed. There was nothing small about the performances,
however; on the contrary, the proximity of audience to the players tended
to make the acting at times overwhelming. Older brother Garry was especially
guilty of overplaying his natural comic shtick. Unless one is offended
by witnessing the abuse of a perfectly good portable typewriter, that
may be the only criticism that could be seriously leveled at the production.
This may be the best
live theatre deal in Vancouver. The Havana Theatre also houses an art
gallery and restaurant, situated in the lively section on Commercial Drive,
so one can take in this presentation, Marc-Luc Poelvoorde’s digital
art exhibition, and have a great cappuccino brought to your table by a
friendly server without leaving the building, all for less than twenty-five