True West: True to Life Stuff

My husband and I attended Tallgrass Theatre three times in the past two weeks. Never before have I been moved to buy tickets for more than one night of a performance. However, “True West” was more than a performance.  It was a touching, emotional, powerful display of the complicated realm of human emotion.  Especially within dysfunctional families.

The first night, I was in shock.  The story felt so real I needed to make sure Shawn Wilson, the actor who played Lee that night, was okay.  As he turned bright red with a telephone cord around his neck, I believed his brother had killed him.  When Lee jumped up to close the show, I was certain he had still sustained some kind of injury. He was okay, thankfully, but I needed to check.

The second night, with Michael Davenport as Lee, I felt insanity oozing from the stage.  Michael was brilliant at playing a crazy, dangerous drunk who deep down just wanted something to work out.  I felt Austin’s angst (played by Shawn this time) as he tried to make everything okay, all the time.

Last night was best experience of them all.  Lee, played by Shawn again, started his lines sounding like a little boy that just wanted to be included in his brother’s life.  He also wanted merit of his own. The only way he knew to get it was by intimidation.  Isn’t that where insanity and violence usually stem from?  People just wanting to be loved and appreciated but not knowing how else to get it? Austin, played by Michael, started his lines as a man focused on his work, less afraid than in the first show.  The audience was completely sucked in, gasping, laughing, and making involuntary comments as the actors emoted their lines.

I had a week to think about why this experience kept me coming back for more even though it made me uncomfortable.  Typically, when violence comes onto screen, I close my eyes and cover my ears until the music tells me the worst is over.  I can’t stand to see anyone victimized.  Equals battling it out are fine but when it’s clear one has the upper hand and the other is powerless, I can’t handle it. I was the youngest of three and my mom was unpredictable.  I loved her but she was unpredictable. Just like Lee and Austin, she would be one way to me behind closed doors and another when others were around. I couldn’t tell if she loved me or hated me and I’m pretty sure it was both. Just like Austin, more than anything else (success, fame, money), I want to be included.  “What if I come with you Lee?”, Austin pleaded.  I push myself to be something, someone, on the map but, at any moment, could topple into the depths of despair just like he did.

When you love someone insane, they typically are not insane all the time. Sometimes you aren’t sure if they are the problem or you are. Sometimes it feels if you could just be enough, do everything right, make it big enough, their insanity would go away. That thinking is just as insane. “True West” with the set dressing and cast at Tallgrass Theatre SHOWED that to be true.

Thank you cast, crew and especially Tom Perrine for taking the risk and making this experience possible.


From my heart to yours,

Thanks for reading