True West March 20-22 and 27-29, 8 p.m.; March 23 and 30, 2 p.m.; $10-$15. Las Vegas Little Theatre, 362-7996.
Sam Shepard’s True West follows the descent of two brothers (Austin and Lee) from polite antagonism into murderous rage. A modern classic, it examines two sides of archetypal American maleness that are, at most, a hair’s breadth from complete disaster. True West takes them (and the audience) to the limit in a brutal and funny punch-up, done with electricity at Las Vegas Little Theatre.
David Beck as Lee—the aging, petty criminal brother, is intense, jangly and riveting. The character, a variation on an iconic American trope, darkly twists the mythic cowboy, with more threat than charm and more hat than cattle. Shepard’s script can be very detailed at times, dictating a lot of the action, and Beck hits the marks while giving the action a breath of spontaneity to keep things sharp. Beck has great presence, and his dirty, menacing Lee is the stuff of ulcers.
Shane Cullum has a tougher task with Austin, the nebbishy younger brother. Even as Austin appears to give in to Lee in the early scenes, he’s fighting, too, but finding ways to demonstrate that isn’t easy. Early on, Cullum can’t bring Austin to life in quite the same way Beck does with Lee, but he comes alive in the second act, when he’s overtly in opposition to Lee. I also wanted to see stronger choices from Brian Scott, playing Hollywood producer Saul. He was outfitted perfectly by Jennifer McKee (who did excellent work with all the costumes) and had fun with the role, but a little more wounded pride and slickness would have given Cullum more to push off.
Still, director Shawn Hackler guides his troupe well, and as the play winds down and the brothers’ anger boils over, Cullum and Beck hit their stride and embody the ever-increasing desperation and destruction with zest. Their final confrontation explodes but solves nothing, leaving them trapped with each other, forever, in a stage picture that will stay with you for a long time, too.