While critically acclaimed, Shepard writes damn good works of drama. He creates perfect dialogue. He also writes gritty scenes that find a way of remaining real in a setting I like to imagine being surreal. The settings of his plays recreate various locales of the Southwestern United States. If you’ve ever been there, you know how enchanting and mysterious the land can be. Shepard captures that enchantment.
True West is about Lee and Austin. Austin, the younger brother, is staying at his mother’s house (she’s vacationing) trying to finish a screenplay for a Hollywood producer. Lee is a petty thief looking for an easy payday as he runs from his debts. There is little respect between these two. The fighting brother dynamic is thrown into full effect as Austin is trying to take care of the house and finish his play. The conversation centers around how each brother survives. Each thinks they have life figured out. Austin writes, and he lives on the straight and narrow. Lee has a life of crime, but he also has “true to life” stories to tell:
Austin: Nobody can disappear. The old man tried that. Look where it got him. He lost his teeth
Lee: He never had any money.
Austin: I don’t mean that. I mean his teeth! His real teeth. First he lost his real teeth, then he lost his false teeth. You never knew that did ya’? He never confided in you.
Lee: Nah, I never knew that.
Austin: You wanna’ drink? Yeah, he lost his real teeth one at a time. Woke up every morning with another tooth lying on the mattress. Finally, he decides he’s gotta’ get ‘em all pulled out but he doesn’t have any money. Middle of Arizona with no money and no insurance and every morning another tooth is lying on the mattress. So what does he do?
Lee: I dunno’. I never knew about that.
Austin: So he locates a Mexican dentist in Juarez who’ll do the whole thin for a song. And he takes off hitchhicking to the border.
Austin: Yeah. So how long you thing it takes him to get to the border? A man his age?
Lee: I dunno.
Austin: Eight days it takes him. Eight days in the rain and the sun and every day he’s droppin’ teeth on the blacktop and nobody’ll pick him up ‘cause his mouth’s full a’ blood. So finally he stumbles into the dentist. Dentist takes his money and all his teeth. And there he is, in Mexico, with his gums sewed up and his pockets empty.
Lee: That’s it?
Austin: Then I go out to see him, see. I go out there and I take him out for a nice Chinese dinner. But he doesn’t eat. All he wants to do is drink Martinis outa’ plastic cups. And he takes his teeth out and lays ‘em on the table ‘cause he can’t stand the feel of ‘em. And we ask the waitress for one a’ those doggie bags to take the Chop Suey home in. So he drops his teeth in the doggie bag along with the Chop Suey. And then we go out to hit all the bars up and down the highway. Says he wants to introduce me to all his buddies. And in one a’ those bars, in one a’ those bars up and down the highway, he left that doggie bag with his teeth laying in the Chop Suey.
Lee: You never found it?
Austin: We went back but we never did find it. (pause) Now that’s a true story. True to life.Ultimately Austin wants to write these true to life stories but never experienced anything himself. When the producer Saul comes to check on Austin’s screenplay, Lee pitches him a story and Saul decides that Lee’s story is what Austin should be writing. Through nine scenes, this play allows the brothers to believe they should be living the life of the other. Fighting is the only way to solve this problem. Actually, fighting is the only way to solve any problem. Three cheers for Sam!