To say the family at the center of Sam Shepard's True West is dysfunctional is like calling the Korean War a police action. The play is about sibling rivalry pushed to the max. True West recently received a rousing production by the NOCCA Stage Company at the school.
Austin (Silas Cooper), a prim, young screenwriter, is minding his mother's house near or in Los Angeles while she's away on vacation. As he tries to concentrate on research for a new project, his wayward brother Lee (Jason Kirkpatrick) drops in and deliberately irritates him through increasingly destructive means. Lee is an outlaw and given to violent outbursts. He spends some of his time roaming the posh neighborhood plying his trade of burglary. You get the feeling he hates Austin's guts, partly because the Ivy League-educated Austin is assumed to be vastly more intelligent than bestial Lee. Lurking in the background is their absent father, a drunk who lives in an also symbolic desert — though what the parched wilderness represents remains a mystery. It seems to offer a bleak, solitary transcendence.
Austin tries to get Lee out of the house so he can meet with a producer who is interested in his project. Lee decides he wants to break into movies. He barges into the meeting (carrying a stolen TV) and soon has the producer lined up for a golf game. By schmoozing the producer, Lee takes over as the up-and-coming Western movie writer — except he can't write. Austin is hired to do the actual writing as Lee dictates an improbable "true-life-type" tale of a betrayed husband chasing his wife's lover by car across the "tornado country" of the Texas panhandle. A creepy humor keeps this claustrophobic play entertaining as it spirals downward toward a horrible and unavoidable fratricide.
Janet Shea skillfully directed the formidable Kirkpatrick and Cooper, and she played the mother. Michael Cahill was cast as the movie producer. Dan Zimmer designed an excellent set and lighting.
True West was the premier production of the NOCCA Stage Company, which plans to present modern American classics. If their first outing is an indication, try to catch a future show.