Stage & Dance

'True West' examines the bond of brothers

In the Bible, Eric Seale observes, the first murder is committed by a man who kills his brother. Watching Sam Shepard's True West, it seems that not much has changed, and that's part of what attracted Seale to the script.

"You have these two brothers, and there's this constant swing of dominance of one over the other, and they're totally opposite people," Seale says. "With brothers, there always seems to be this 'I'm in charge' mentality."

For Seale, True West is one of the theater's most realistic depictions of the strained relationships and competition between male siblings.

In Shepard's play, there is definite competition between Austin, a successful screenwriter, and Lee, a drifter and thief. As the story unfolds, each derides the other's lifestyle while revealing a desire to walk in his shoes.

"There are resentments that can be there long after you leave home," says Tim Hull, who plays Austin. "You can go out and live your life, but you come home and to everyone, you're the same kid you were when you were growing up."

To Bob Singleton, who plays Lee, many moments in the play ring true — for instance, when Austin and Lee's mother tells them to go fight outside.

When Singleton, also a member of the Studio Players board, unveiled the 2009-10 season last spring, he said that this was the first area production of a play by Shepard in years.

Shepard, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (for the 1979 play Buried Child) and Academy Award-nominated actor (for 1984's The Right Stuff), lives part-time in Midway.

The last Shepard production by a professional or community theater in Lexington was Fool for Love in 1998 by the now-closed Phoenix Group Theatre.

"I don't know if he cares at all," Singleton says of Shepard, who keeps a low profile in the area. "But it's important that his work is seen."

Hull says, "Theater people know him, but the general public should be more aware that we have this genius playwright living among us."

For Seale, the genius is in the ability to write realistic dialogue that makes the situations feel authentic.

It's a style that Singleton says Shepard and David Mamet pioneered in the 1970s and '80s.

"Now we're kind of used to it because so many other playwrights have followed them," Singleton says. "But 30 years ago, this kind of realism, really writing the way people actually talk, wasn't heard of much."

Seale sees that in the opening moments of the play, when Lee and Austin see each other for the first time in years.

"When they're just doing idle chitchat, it is one of the most painfully funny things to watch," says Seale, who also is interim artistic director at Actors Guild of Lexington. "I think it's interesting to explore plays where people who are blood-related, like the closest you could be, have nothing in common and don't know how to speak to each other."

During the course of the play, the inability to communicate verbally gives way to a violent confrontation.

"I sometimes get accused of directing guy-centric plays," says Seale, who directed last year's production of Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare to get away from that.

But the testosterone of True West is not what appeals to Seale.

"I really like realistic plays," Seale says. "I like it when I sit in the audience and say, 'I believe this could happen, 100 percent.'

"I like to get into the guts of relationship and plays about real people. This is about real people."

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