×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: ‘True West’ With Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano

Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano duke it out as battling brothers in a disappointing revival of Sam Shepard’s fierce 1980 classic.

With:
Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano, Gary Wilmes, Marylouise Burke.

2 hours 10 minutes

Austin (Paul Dano) is the mild brother, a Hollywood screenwriter holed up in his mother’s house and pecking away at a screenplay.  Lee (Ethan Hawke) is the wild brother, a desert rat and sometime thief with more exciting, if improbable, stories to tell. More alike than either one of them would admit, they attack each other like buzzards in  “True West,” until they exhaust themselves to a no-win standoff.

This funny, violent play is one of Sam Shepard’s best works, a fierce summation of some of his undying themes: the archetypal battle between blood brothers; the cultural collision between modern civilization and its violent past; the lingering death of the Old West. “There’s no such thing as the West, anymore,” the playwright tells us. But that doesn’t stop his characters from fighting over what’s left of their wasted inheritance.

True West” is a neverending battle of sibling rivalry and identity theft. Austin is supposed to be the creative one, but Lee is the one who dreams up the story idea that Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer (Gary Wilmes) is eager to option. Lee is supposed to be a professional thief, but Austin is the one who breaks into his neighbors’ homes to steal toasters.

Without being aware of what they’re doing, the brothers are slipping into each other’s skins, absorbing each other’s identities and morphing into a single person. Since they’re actually two aspects of the same person, each brother is fighting for his life — and possession of their shared identity.

If there’s one thing a production of “True West” must have, it’s that haunting sense of the two brothers being one person at war with himself. That’s exactly what director James Macdonald’s new Broadway production doesn’t have. Hawke seethes and smolders in a thrilling approximation of Lee’s craziness, but there’s no hint of Austin in his manic performance. And while Dano is completely convincing as the repressed Austin, there’s no sign of his secret bad boy, not even when he’s breaking into houses and stealing toasters.

More critically, there’s no real sense of danger when the brothers finally trash the kitchen and go for each other’s throats. When their mother, played by the incomparable Marylouise Burke, returns home and surveys the wreck her sons have made of her kitchen (designed with unspeakable ugliness by clever Mimi Lien), she scolds them as if they were misbehaving children. That seems appropriate here, but how much better it would have been if she could reprimand them as if they were wild animals who have no idea how scary they are.

Broadway Review: 'True West' With Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano

American Airlines Theater; 740 seats; $159 top. Opened Jan. 24, 2019. Reviewed Jan. 19. Running time: TWO HOURS, 10 MIN.

Production: Directed by James Macdonald. Set, Mimi Lien; costumes, Kaye Voyce; lighting, Jane Cox; sound, Bray Poor; production stage manager, James Latus.

Creative: A Roundabout Theater Company production of a play in two acts by Sam Shepard.

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano, Gary Wilmes, Marylouise Burke.

More Legit

  • Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to

    Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to Be This Timely

    When Paula Vogel began writing “Indecent” in 2010, she had no idea how resonant its exploration of immigration woes, anti-Semitism and homophobia in the past century would become in the current political climate. The Tony-nominated play, running until July 7 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, traces the theatrical history of 1907 Yiddish play “God of Vengeance” [...]

  • Bitter Wheat review

    West End Review: John Malkovich in David Mamet's 'Bitter Wheat'

    How soon is too soon? Hardly a year had passed since allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public before David Mamet announced that his satire on the subject, “Bitter Wheat,” was set to star John Malkovich in the West End. Six months later, we’re sat watching a corpulent, super-rich movie mogul — Barney Fein (cough, [...]

  • Batman Julia Roberts Spike Lee

    Batman, Julia Roberts, Spike Lee Among 2020 Walk of Fame Honorees

    Batman, Julia Roberts and Spike Lee are among the names selected to be inducted into the 2020 Walk of Fame. The full list of honorees was announced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Fame Selection Committee via an exclusive livestream by Variety. Chosen from hundreds of nominees during a selection meeting in June, [...]

  • Tracy Letts

    Tracy Letts' Comedy 'The Minutes' to Hit Broadway in 2020

    Playwright Tracy Letts’ comedy “The Minutes” will hit the Broadway stage in Feb. 2020. “The Minutes,” written by actor, producer and playwright Letts, is a comedy taking a look at the current state of American politics through the lens of a small, fictional town called Big Cherry. The play is set in a city council [...]

  • Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer

    Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer of MWM Live (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Forshaw has been named executive producer of MWM Live, Variety has learned. The theater veteran most recently served as VP of production for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. In his new role, he will oversee MWM Live’s slate of stage productions with an emphasis on expanding the division’s work on Broadway. MWM Live [...]

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream review

    London Theater Review: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

    “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” can be many things. There are earthy “Dreams,” airy “Dreams,” saucy “Dreams” and sweet “Dreams.” It’s Shakespeare’s most malleable play. Nicholas Hytner’s new staging strives to set itself apart, plunging its immersive audience into a festival-style fairy kingdom and casting the ethereal, white-blonde Gwendoline Christie (fresh off “Game of Thrones”) as [...]

  • Audra McDonald Frankie and Johnny

    Listen: How Audra McDonald Faced Her Fear in 'Frankie and Johnny'

    When producers offered Audra McDonald a role in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” opposite Michael Shannon, she immediately said yes. Then she remembered the nude scene. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Hell, yes, there was trepidation,” the Tony-winning actress said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “I was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content