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The late great actor and playwright Sam Shepard (1943-2017) would have liked and appreciated Las Cruces Community Theatre’s production of his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award nominated masterpiece “True West.”
The play premiered more than 40 years ago, but its story is more meaningful today than ever: a broken family, the struggle to survive and the hope not only to overcome but to win the game of life.
Luckily for Las Cruces audiences, the tale is told by a cast of four gifted actors and one of the best directors Las Cruces has ever produced.
Lee (Benjamin Ramsey), a thief, drifter and ne’er-do-well, meets up with his estranged younger brother, Austin (Nick Check), a well-educated family man and successful screenwriter, at their mother’s home near Los Angeles. They settle into the sibling rivalry that has characterized their entire relationship. They drink, they fight, they steal toasters and a TV. But it is the screenplay Austin is writing and the idea Lee has for a screenplay that cause a remarkable role reversal. Which one is really the success and which the failure?
These are the words of director Mike Wise, who knows and loves Shepard’s work: “In rehearsal I kept referring to this play as ‘Cain and Abel in Hollywood.’ It offers many insights and questions into what might or might not be the authentic soul harboring within each of us … and what (if any) is the authentic soul of this country, this west, this nation.”
If you have the privilege of acting in a play directed by Wise, you get to ask all the questions and explore all the nuances waiting to be discovered in a great script. And when you have a script, a cast, a crew and a director this good, the result is like a flashlight in a diamond mine – it sparkles and it takes your breath away.
The chemistry between Check and Ramsey – the playfulness of two boys who never quite grew up and the rage of two careworn men who “inhabit completely opposite personalities of the same soul,” to again quote Wise – is the golden thread stitched into the fabric of this production. It fills the stage and the theatre. It will, I think, be among the treasured memories of both these young actors throughout their lives and long careers.
Check and Ramsey are joined by two other wonderful actors: Matthew Esqueda as the movie producer who turns the brothers 180 degrees, and Claudia Billings as Lee and Austin’s mother. These are not big roles, but they are great performances.
The incomparable Doug Roby has designed another amazing set for “True West,” Lennie Brown designed costumes that fit each character perfectly, Alecks Rundell designed the lights, Darin Cabot was the fight choreographer and Charley Davis is the stage manager. I also loved the music.
Remaining performances of “True West” are 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Oct. 13-14 and 20-21; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15 and 22.
Tickets are $17-$20 for adults; $15 for seniors ages 65 and older, students and military; and $12 for children ages 3-17.
Call 575-523-1200. Visit www.lcctnm.org.