Out Front on Main, the newest theater to grace the city of Murfreesboro, recently housed a production of Sam Shepard’s “True West.” George W. Manus Jr. directed its select cast of four, which included Buddy Jones, Peter Hawkins, Terry Mayo and Kelly Northcutt Hayes.
The quaint, hole-in-the-wall feeling of the fresh theater drew the audience right into the drama of the play, all of which takes place in a single room: the kitchen. Two brothers—one a restrained screenwriter trying to make it big, one a leeching vagabond—are reunited in their mother’s house after a long period of disassociation.
After Austin (the screenwriter) agrees to watch the house while his mother vacations in Alaska, Austin’s brother Lee shows up and starts causing trouble. In essence, a big movie deal Austin is in the midst of discussing with Saul Kimmer (a bigshot producer) falls to the wayside at the hands of Lee and his selfish scheming. After losing a bet to Lee on a game of golf, Saul agrees instead produce Lee’s screenplay, much to the chagrin of Austin who is roped into writing it for him. Eventually, they drink until they are reduced to babbling fools, fighting and clawing at each other as they struggle to collaborate on a screenplay neither of them is prepared to write.
The play focuses largely on the relationship between the two brothers and their parents, the strain put on them by the direct conflict of the screenplay, and the underlying tension that has clearly existed between the brothers since childhood.
Buddy Jones does a fantastic job in his role as Austin. As the lights came up on the stage for the opening scene, he walked across the stage and sat down at his typewriter, plunking the keys in measured, poignant silence. He mastered his character, really getting across the agonizing confliction of a man torn between right and wrong living.
Peter Hawkins, no stranger to the Out Front stage, was a dead ringer in his casting as a ruffian drifter. With every line he delivered and every “beer” he drank onstage his character became more and more believable—five minutes into the play it was hard to differentiate between the actor and the person.
The role of Saul Kimmer was done justice by Terry Mayo, who encapsulated the spirit of the flighty producer who can be swayed like a leaf in the wind. The age difference between Mayo and his co-actors, coupled with his understanding of appropriate dynamics between characters, lent credence to his performance. Lastly, Kelly Northcutt Hayes, while she had minimal stage time, served her purpose dutifully as the detached mother slipping gradually into senility.
Overall, the play was a good one, never mind its sparse audience. That Murfreesboro finally has a theater that is focused exclusively on shows with grittier, more hard-hitting themes is a breath of fresh air for a town without many outlets for such productions. This is important is because a play is more than just a good time at the theater. It is literature poured through the words of a script into actors’ mouths, running onto the stage and into the minds and hearts of its audience members. Plays like “True West,” which explore human relationships at their most transparent, most definitely deserve an increased exposure in local theater. Go and support!