Kali Tudisco ’15, Staff Writer
The first of four plays starring Merrimack students this year—two presented by the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, and two by the OnStagers—the dark comedy True West brings a story of brotherly hate to the Rogers Center stage this fall.
It’s the late 1970s, and Austin (Nathaniel Vilandre) is a successful, clean-cut Hollywood screenwriter with a wife and family; his brother Lee (Matt McCormick) is a good-for-nothing drifter who makes a living stealing household appliances. The two brothers’ lives have rarely intersected since they were children, but as Austin prepares to pitch an important screenplay, Lee crashes back into his brother’s life. When, on a whim, the unrefined Lee pitches a tacky Wild West story to the Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer (Josh Canner), he captures the producer’s attention—and all of a sudden, Austin’s dreams are dashed while Lee finds himself launched to the level of a real screenwriter. But neither brother fits well in his new role, and, as they clash again and again, the brothers begin to unravel at the seams. Their frightened and powerless mother (Kali Tudisco) can only watch as her sons destroy her suburban kitchen and, literally and figuratively, tear each other down.
Director Kathleen Sills first saw True West in its iconic Steppenwolf Theatre production in Chicago in 1981, starring the then-unknown John Malkovich and Francis Guinan, and directed by Gary Sinise.
“I was profoundly impacted by the play and in particular the sheer power of the acting. I knew then that someday I wanted to direct the play,” says Sills.
She believes that this play is both exciting to work on and exciting to watch because of the constant tension and conflict that builds between the characters with each and every line of dialogue.
“Playwright Sam Shepard’s characters actually do things to each other. They take action in service of what they want, take risks and crazy things happen because of it,” she states. “The play is funny and violent and that is one of my favorite combinations.”
She also believes that college students can relate to many of the play’s themes, from sibling rivalry to the unpleasant results of drinking too much.
The play provides a gritty contrast to the OnStagers’ show this semester, the wacky musical Little Shop of Horrors, which will run November 14-16.
In addition to the four actors, several others have been key in bringing this production to life—lighting design and technical direction are by Carter Miller, sound design by Andrew Joyal, and set design by Peter Waldron. Casey Watkins serves as stage manager.
True West runs at the Rogers Center for the Arts on October 17th and 18th at 7:30 PM and on October 19th at 2 PM and 7:30 PM. As always, student admission is $5, but this time, theatergoers can obtain a free ticket to the show if they bring a nonperishable food item to support a Bread and Roses campaign. In addition, students over 21 can use their ticket stub to get $1 off a beer or wine purchase at Augie’s Pub after the show!