Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
October 10, 2014
The plays of Sam Shepard create a bleak portrait: a desolate Southwest landscape of raw emotion, family dissolution and mutual destruction.
Cygnet Theatre has impeccably paired two of Shepard’s darkly comic dramas, performed in repertory, ingeniously called Shep Rep.
In the early 1980s, both “True West” and “Fool for Love” were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. They’re terrific together, both featuring a violent, co-dependent pas de deux, and a laser-sharp focus on the duality of personality, the quest for identity and ancestry as destiny.
“True West” is a master class in sibling rivalry, centered on two wildly disparate brothers. One is a tightly-wrapped Ivy Leaguer, a successful, suburban, screenwriting family-man; the other is a wild, grubby, free-spirited drifter and grifter . Each harbors a lifelong yearning to trade places. And over the course of a torturous few nights, during which they trash their mother’s home and nearly murder each other with golf clubs and telephone cords, they become so intertwined, they’re indistinguishable. They drink and fight around the clock; only the attractive palm tree projections mark the passage of time.
“Fool for Love” is an intense, fiery exploration of attraction and repulsion, abandonment and reunion, passion and pain. May and Eddie cannot stand being separated, or being together. Her hapless suitor is caught in the crossfire.
Cygnet artistic director Sean Murray has designed and directed. Though the claustrophobic nature of these plays could be heightened, you couldn’t hope for a better repertory cast.
Francis Gercke , Manny Fernandes and Carla Harting are superb. Though I couldn’t quite buy a 1970s SuperFly black Hollywood producer with a decidedly Jewish name, Antonio TJ Johnson is a hoot – in that “True West” character, and as the fantasy father in “Fool for Love.” Jill Dexler is ideal in her cameo, and special kudos go to George Yé for his frighteningly real fight choreography.
These aren’t pretty pictures. They’re grainy, gritty and unresolved. But Cygnet brings them to vibrant life. Though the outcomes aren’t clearly delineated, the plays are skillfully developed.
“True West” and “Fool for Love” play in repertory through November 2, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
©2014 PAT LAUNER