The third production of Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy's 2008 season, Sam Sheperd's 1980 comic drama True West, chronicles an epic case of sibling rivalry between a struggling screenwriter named Austin (Dan Bogart) and his ne'er-do-well younger brother Lee (Matt Bogart), a swaggering petty thief and inveterate spinner of tall tales about a mythical American West that exists only in Lee's mind. When the curtain rises, Austin is house-sitting in Southern California, banging away on his typewriter while his and Lee's mother (Pauline Cobrda) is on a trip to Alaska. When Lee turns up unexpectedly, like the proverbial bad penny, Austin is on the cusp of achieving his lifelong dream of finally selling a script to Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer (Vinny Genna).
But Lee, who is a con man and cannot write a lick, perversely jeopardizes the six-figure check that is almost within Austin's grasp by pitching a competing script idea to Saul. Lee's far-fetched fable of betrayal and revenge and an improbable chase across Texas, first in trucks and then on horseback, is fool's gold — made up on the spot — but it easily outshines the more conventional love story that Austin is pitching.
New York-based brothers Matt and Dan Bogart bring a special chemistry to their roles as Lee and Austin. Matt Bogart's Lee is mad, bad, and dangerous to know, but has no redeeming Byronic virtues. Dan Bogart's Austin is the complete opposite of his brother: uptight whereas Lee is a loose cannon that threatens to go off at any moment, cerebral and calculating whereas Lee is impulsive and reckless. The brothers Bogart contribute a couple of high-octane performances to this modern Cain-and-Abel story; Vinny Genna is hilarious as the supremely self-confident Hollywood wheeler-dealer whom Lee bamboozles with his big talk; and Pauline Cobrda adds a nice comic cameo as Austin and Lee's stunned mother, who comes home from her vacation to find her houseplants dead or dying and her house in a shambles.
Director Lauren Kennedy gingerly guides her four-member cast through the dramatic minefield that is True West, where surface humor camouflages potentially explosive resentments festering just beneath the surface — volcanic emotions that threaten to erupt at any moment. Scenic designer Curtis Lee Jones has created a splendidly realistic set of the kitchen and dining room that serves as Austin and Lee's battlefield, and the incidental music from The Red Clay Ramblers catalog, which plays between the scenes, is a nice touch, too.
Note: On July 4th, the ticket price for active-duty military personnel with ID will be just $15; and a set of tickets to any 2008 show will be given away to HSN's patriotic patrons. Moreover, intermission on Judy 4th will run 30 minutes, so that the HSN audience may celebrate Independence Day.
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents True West Wednesday-Saturday, July 2-5 and 9-12, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 6 and 13, at 3 p.m. in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601. $27.50 Wednesday-Saturday and $20 for Sunday matinees, except $17.50 Friday-Sunday for students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel with ID. Progress Energy Center Box Office: in-person sales only. Group Rates: 919/828-3726. Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/. The Play: http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=show&id=2342 (Internet Off-Broadway Database) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=8908 (Internet Broadway Database). Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086481/ (1984 episode of "American Playhouse") and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0328719/ (2002 TV movie). Sam Shepard: http://www.sam-shepard.com/ (official web site), http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=8584 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001731/ (Internet Movie Database).