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  True West Reviews
True West
True West

True West
Steppenwolf Theatre
Thru - Aug 25, 2019

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Steppenwolf Theatre

  • Highly Recommended
  • Recommended
  • Somewhat Recommended
  • Not Recommended

Chicago Tribune- Recommended

"...I don’t care so much about past conversations so much as present theatrical realities: this “True West” actually has all the ingredients for greatness, but it could use a clearer manifestation of the play’s most important war, which is, of course, the one inside this late, great playwright’s skull. The moment-by-moment specifics are its tactical matter, and never grey."
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Chris Jones



Chicago Sun Times- Highly Recommended

"...We last saw Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood, two young Steppenwolf ensemble members, together onstage in "Pass Over," Antoinette Nwandu's contemporary take on "Waiting for Godot." They were a compelling pair then, and their teaming in this production of Sam Shepard's "True West" comes off so effectively that it's impossible not to picture them as a frequent future pairing, an essential, craved-for duo for the next generation."
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Steven Oxman



Chicago Reader- Recommended

"...Shepard's mix of biblical and western themes is vivid as a clear day's sunset, thanks in part to Steppenwolf's lush design team. Ann G. Wrightson's dusk-to-dawn lighting, the howling coyotes and maimed prey in Richard Woodbury's sound design, and Todd Rosenthal's home-and-desert set combine to romanticize the Great American West even as Ned Mochel's bruising fight choreography tracks its destruction."
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Catey Sullivan



Windy City Times- Highly Recommended

"...To judge from this play, the true west is realized more by the wild call of the desert than the undramatic sameness of suburbia. Harkening back to its roots, Steppenwolf once again puts this on display with its focus on the sometimes volatile nature of human beings, but at the same time delivers a production that never fails to entertain. Revisiting one of its greatest accomplishments, it has created a brilliant new one to add to the mix."
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Karen Topham



Time Out Chicago- Highly Recommended

"...While much has been made about Steppenwolf returning to the play that made it famous, this True West is not an exercise in nostalgia. Quite the opposite: By dialing up the play’s slapstick-comedy elements, Arney and company adopt a jaundiced view of toxic masculinity. (That the bungalow actually belongs to their mother, played by Jacqueline Williams, feels more significant than usual.) The more the pair drink—and boy, do they drink—the more they devolve into boys, complete with major daddy issues. Casting two black men in these roles sharpens the play’s uncanny sense of dislocation, removing the brothers even further from the lily-white westerns they revere. This True West can’t have the seismic impact of its predecessor, but it’s not beholden to its legacy, either. The map is already there; Arney, Smallwood and Hill are pointing the way forward."
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Alex Huntsberger



Chicago On the Aisle- Highly Recommended

"...Smallwood's edgy, smoldering, dangerous Lee imagines himself the realist, a man of the raw and defiant world who, almost on a whim, can shift gears and outdo Austin at his own game. The key trick of Hill's performance is Austin's complete and believable disintegration before our eyes. Maybe Lee isn't the only one who can slip silently into an unguarded home and slip out with some treasure, some sign of a novice thief's worthy place in the world of the unprivileged."
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Lawrence B. Johnson



Stage and Cinema- Recommended

"...Pulling no more punches than the play, Arney’s kick-ass staging plays up the violence at the expense of detailing the sibling’s switcheroo. Hill is good at showing Austin’s vulnerability: He’s a too-nice guy out of touch with his feelings and plagued by gratuitous guilt. Snarling and surly from start to finish, Smallwood certainly conveys Lee’s alpha-male, bully-boy pyrotechnics. What’s less obvious (as in hardly evident) is the insinuating charm that would win over Guinan’s pliable idiot of a producer. Williams’ mystifying mother remains, as written, AWOL."
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Lawrence Bommer



Splash Magazine- Highly Recommended

"...Guinan as Saul Kimmer is perfect as the soulless, vicious producer, curiously devoid of humanity, a stick figure in a deliberately ill fitting toupee. Williams as mom is also imbued with a sense of ambiguity; she's not all there. Steppenwolf's True West is a showpiece for the two very fine male leads in the fullness of emergent virtuosity. Smallwood's Lee is at once sinister, tender, his physicality that of a prowling panther. Hill, in shrewd contrast, remains oddly a self-conscious high achiever even as his booze fueled persona tries to mimic his brother's swagger.This is an ultra intelligent, emotionally engaging and complex play that draws you in from the first instant and holds you in thrall until long after you leave the theatre."
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Debra Davy



Let's Play at ChicagoNow- Highly Recommended

"...Kudos to Steppenwolf for reviving this legendary play, keeping it fresh and new, however, the ending felt a little disconnected when the mother came home. There was no real connection with her and her sons."
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Rick and Brenda McCain



Around The Town Chicago- Highly Recommended

"...The play can be understood on many levels. One theme is the seeming incongruities among various characters. It is initially quite funny to watch Lee boast in the first act of his fine ability to play golf, which seems quite incompatible with his personality. Later in the second act, it is charming to watch Austin and Lee transpose their personal quirks. But on a serious note, their odd behavior is indicative of a dysfunctional family where a father drinks too much and a mother cares more about her potted plants than fostering a solid relationship with her children."
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Julia W. Rath



NewCity Chicago- Somewhat Recommended

"...That's not a call to make these sequences more dangerous. I'm thinking about tension and under what conditions it manifests: discomfort, the unspoken, fear, threat. It's this invisible connection that fails ever to exist in the room. Each story and concept feels independent without collision or intersection of any sort. In this way, we see a show that succeeds in short, but is no more than the sum of its parts"
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Jay Van Ort



WTTW- Highly Recommended

"...Under the direction of Randall Arney (the veteran Steppenwolf ensemble member who served as the company’s artistic director from 1987 to 1995), the actors dive into their roles with impeccable control and terrifying abandon, with Ned Mochel’s terrifying fight choreography the ultimate survival test."
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Hedy Weiss



Chicago Theatre Review- Highly Recommended

"...This American classic is being given an excellent revival by one of Chicago’s most consistently competent theatre companies. While it’s often difficult to witness the bitter angst, antagonism and pain in this story, Shepard’s play never-the-less remains a brilliant study in the duality between siblings or within a single individual. The subtle way these two men morph into one another provides this unique drama with just the right psychological tension. And, in this portrait of sibling rivalry gone berserk, we’re left with a fascinating and thought-provoking afternoon or evening of theatre."
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Colin Douglas



Chicagoland Theater Reviews- Highly Recommended

"...“True West” is a major building block in establishing the reputations of the playwright, the Steppenwolf, Chicago as a center for a new and gut wrenching style of theater, and John Malkovich as a world class actor. It’s a great play done in great style. After almost four decades, Sam Shepard and the Steppenwolf theater remain a perfect match."
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Dan Zeff



Buzznews.net- Highly Recommended

"...If you’ve never seen ‘True West’ this is the production to see. It’s epic in scale with an impressive set by Todd Rosenthal and it’s incredibly well acted. For those Steppenwolf enthusiasts, this is an important revival for the institution itself, as this was the play that put them on the map. It’s hard to believe that without Sam Shepard’s ‘True West’ we may not have the iconic space on Halsted and maybe Chicago wouldn’t be nearly as reputable for outstanding regional theatre. In any case, this ‘True West’ is a bit of history reimagined for a new generation to not only find Shepard’s work relevant, but also consider the impressive legacy of one of Chicago’s finest institutions."
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John Accrocco



The Fourth Walsh- Recommended

"...Playwright Sam Shepard has penned a tale of sibling rivalry. Each brother believes he could do what the other does more successfully. Their playful banter is riddled with jealousy, guilt, shame. Initially, Hill is reserved and Smallwood is gregarious. When Smallwood cozies up to Austin’s boss to pitch a story idea, Hill starts to spiral out-of control. Their drinking intensifies. The drunker they get, the more baffling their choices become. Smallwood beats up a typewriter. And Hill steals toasters."
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Katy Walsh



Third Coast Review- Recommended

"...The underlying theme is "there's no such thing as the West any more," which seems to translate in this century as "there's no such thing as shocking drama any more," as theater now offers promenade, immersive, multi-day, multi-discipline, multi-cultural and other incessantly genre-breaking production choices, and the real world currently offers non-stop shocks. Pundits often observe that the drama from the present political administration is so extreme that, if it were written in a screenplay, nobody or no studio would buy it. The real world has surpassed scripts. Trashing mom's house feels tame."
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Karin McKie



The Hawk Chicago- Highly Recommended

"...Steppenwolf’s revival of True West is proof that lightning can strike twice. If you are interested in where Chicago theatre has been and where it is going, this production is a must see."
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TotalTheater- Highly Recommended

"...What this does, that the 1982 version didn't, is to give us an emotional stake in the fortunes of the siblings, whose talents—one for imaginative storytelling, the other for articulate composition—could make them both rich and successful, if only they could learn to work together. When the final confrontation ensures that this will never happen, we feel the weight of its wasted potential, doomed to wither in the harsh desert climate like the carefully-tended plants in their mother's sunroom."
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Mary Shen Barnidge



Picture This Post- Highly Recommended

"...Like the desert air plants of the True West terrain, this script roots almost magically in both then (1982) and now. In this writer's view, if you love top shelf acting that alone should compel you to clear your schedule to see True West."
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Amy Munice



Rescripted- Highly Recommended

"...The enduring quality of True West is its examination of our perception of reality and authenticity. What are its hallmarks? Can we truly evaluate authenticity, or is it simply a feeling deep within our gut? And what are we willing to sacrifice for a chance to escape our circumstances driven by that vague undefinable hope that lives somewhere in the pit of our stomach? And if we leave on that journey, will we ever get to our destination? One can only hope that all of our compasses point true. And Steppenwolf’s revival of this powerful and enduring masterpiece certainly points True West."
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Sheri L. Flanders