SAM SHEPARD'S "TRUE WEST" TRULY IGNITES THE ARIZONA THEATRE STAGE WITH EQUAL PARTS VIOLENCE AND HUMOR IN THE COMPANY'S BEST SHOW OF THE SEASON

photo by Tim Fuller

Lee (Zack Fine), center, finds an unexpected friend in Saul (Geoffrey Wade), left, the producer who likes Lee's movie idea, much to the consternation of Austin (Rhett Guter), right, Lee's play writing brother and life-long rival.


Come for the energy (and the laughs) but stay for the artistic insight, that's my advice when it comes to seeing Arizona Theatre Company's bristling smack-down production of Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-nominated “True West.”

I'll guarantee you this – no one who watches this show thoughtfully will go home feeling short-changed. “True West” is the best ATC effort of the entire 2023-2024 season.

Lee (Zack Fine) and Austin (Rhett Guter) are two brothers who spent their whole lives taking different paths away from each other.

The tension they create face to face is high-watt voltage, not just the conventional kind of brotherly disagreements but that hold-your-breath-and-hope- to-die kind, right down to the last breath no matter how many kitchen drawers have to be pulled out and their clattering contents dumped all over the stage. That's the energy part.

The insight part comes from several directions. For one, believing that always doing the right thing will always guarantee success is a strategy that can evaporate at any minute.

While living free without any responsibilities isn't really free, as Kris Kristofferson noted in “Me and Bobby McGee,” it is logical to believe these brothers know that, too.

But Lee can't help wanting his freedom. He's the Bad Brother, always on the move, sometimes stealing things, whatever it takes to keep on keeping on.

Austin, meanwhile, is the good son, perennially making good grades, graduating from an Ivy League school, paying attention, never coloring outside the lines.

Because he is intelligent and focused, Austin is convinced the play he's working on right now is the play that will make him famous. Austin even has a prominent producer, Saul Kimmer (Geoffrey Wade), who might be interested in turning the script into a movie.

Shepard the playwright could always create extreme tension by matching characters who can't stop teetering on the edge of self-destruction. As intense actors, bearded Fine and smooth-shaven Guter know how to push those qualities into clashing sparks of flint and steel, igniting everything that's psychologically combustible.

Jenn Thompson, the director, conducts this mano-a-mano duet of violence with a defiant demand the actors keep pushing themselves to stay alive at least long enough to finish the final scene.

“True West” takes place in a distant Los Angeles suburb defined by Alexander Dodge's scenic design of an impeccably detailed early 1970s kitchen and living room where all the colors match and any speck of dust or grease would be banished quicker than the dish could run away with the spoon,

Somehow, at a time before the play begins, Lee has ended five years of misdemeanor wanderlust when he learns his mom has left her spotless home to enjoy some vacation time in Alaska.

Lee also knows his perfect brother Austin is there, house-sitting and working on his play. So maybe, Lee figures, while stopping by he could also rip off a few TVs and things from the unsuspecting neighbors.

“True West” runs through May 18, with performances Wednesdays through Sundays in the downtown Temple of Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Running time is approximately two hours, including intermission.

Tickets are $25-$90. For details and reservations, 1-833-ATC-SEAT (282-7328) or visit www.atc.org













 




















































































































































































































































"HARLIE'S ANGELS" PROVE THAT, WHEN IT COMES TO FIGHTING CRIME AT THE GASLIGHT THEATRE, BEING FOXY LADIES CAN ALSO BECOME A TREMENDOUS ADVANTAGE 

photo by The Gawnes

The Angels are (from left) Janee Page, Heather Stricker and Erin  Todd.

Over at the Gaslight Theatre, before the show even begins, you just know “Harlie's Angels” is set in the 1970s...because everything that isn't yellow or orange is colored hot pink.

Keeping up with the noisy colors is all that music of the period, filled with sweeping choruses made for disco dancing, choc-a-bloc with the goofy mannerisms that were so intrinsic to the elaborate mating rituals filling every weekend of the pop culture swirling Seventies,

Which is exactly what fascinates the two wild and crazy guys from that disco crazy nation of Slobovia, an eager pair of brothers always seeking to meet more super-foxy American ladies.

Maybe it is all those head-spinning color clashes in their costumes, but “Harlie's Angels” seems to never stop moving. Contributing the most commotion are those devoutly disco Piroshki brothers, Serge (Jake Chapman) and Yerge (Jacob Brown). With only the slightest encouragement, their Saturday night fever shoots straight up into triple digits.

But they don't call the show “Harlie's Angels” for nuthin'. This trio of flashy females who excel at just about everything have got all their crime-catcher moves down pat. Just give them a couple of motorcycles and get out of the way. These Angels – Jessie (Erin Thompson), Samantha (Janee Page) and Kimberly (Heather Stricker) – can't go party until Justice has been done.

As you might be expecting, the unseen Harlie's strategic crime-stopping orders to this angelic triumvirate are relayed by the humorously bumbling Beasley (Steve McKee).

To get the plot moving, we learn Slobovia has its own disco hero, Flavio Suave (Todd Thompson), a tall man in a full length fur coat. He became an international disco favorite wearing gold shoes, gold shirt and purple pants.

Well, it is the 1970s, and the communist-leaning Slobovia wants to capture the freedom-loving Flavio so the true party-minded Slobovian government can dominate the international disco scene.

Being a no-nonsense believer in superior technology, the Commisar of the Slobovian Secret Services (Mike Yarema) has created his own deadly Discosizer, a clever machine that can suck the disco spirit out of anyone.

The Commisar is also assisted by the ever-wily Comrade Notinchka (Erin Helm).

Adding to all that discomania onstage is music director Josh Lamoreaux with a rack of electric keyboards and swooshing effects that prove he did his research on the music of the period.

The script by Peter Van Slyke, adapted and directed by Yarema and Kathryn Byrnes (who is also the choreography), put costumer Renee Cloutier at the top of her game as well.

But that is not all. The aftershow olio doubles down on providing more bang for the buck with a fully detailed 20-minute production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Not just the songs but also the scenery and characters from Dorothy (Page) blown into the land of Oz along with her little dog Toto, to meeting her pals the Tin Woodsman, brainless Scarecrow and cowardly Lion, as well as the sinister green Wicked Witch of the West.

The most remarkable performer in Oz is that green-hued Witch (Helm). She becomes everything you could ever want a wicked witch to be.

“Harlie's Angels” and the accompanying olio run through June 2 at the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway, with shows at various times Tuesdays through Sundays. Tickets are $27 plus tax, with discounts for groups, students, seniors, military, first responders and children age 2-12. Phone 520-886-9428, visit www.thegaslighttheatre.com or stop by the Gaslight box office.