An Indelicate Balance

Sam Shepards True West is the Great Southern Californian Play

Yet those issues remain. There are three main themes in True West: the duality of human nature, the battle within the creative process between rationality and intuition, and what the authentic West really is. Shepard shoehorns these dense themes into the personalities of the two brothers. Austin is rationality; Lee is imagination. Austin is confinement; Lee is freedom. Austin is smog and freeways; Lee is Joshua trees and rattlesnakes. Austin is Ivy League and pedigreed Dalmatians; Lee is trailer parks and pit bulls. Austin is Prozac; Lee is methamphetamine.

Although the brothers are polar opposites, neither one wins. Austin's responsibility and middle-class dream is seen to be as ephemeral and foolish as Lee's drifting and adventurous lifestyle. The conflict in True West is unresolved, ending with the characters frozen in tableau, facing off in an uneasy, quite indelicate balance.

It's hard not to take that final image and attach it to the title of the play. Each of these characters has undergone too much to embrace either the harsh truth of life in the desert or the soft truth of the suburban underbelly. Each wants a little of the other; each is unable to accept it. In the end, both are trapped in the uneasy, soul-sucking quagmire of the Southern California West, that broad, empty space between moonlit canyons and mini-malls, dry riverbeds and obscenely lush golf courses, unsatisfying reality and empty dream. The characters' mutually assured stasis provokes a fatalistic vision, as if in the end, all that will remain of what we've turned the West into is the choking Santa Anas blowing over the bones of everything that used to be.

True West at the Sledgehammer Theatre, 1620 Sixth Ave., San Diego, (619) 544-1484. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Through July 5. $15-$20.

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