O, brother, where’s the beer?

True West

You know what that smell is, so don’t ask. It’s your brother.

You know what that smell is, so don’t ask. It’s your brother.

True West, 7 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; $18-$28. Capital Stage, 2215 J Street; (916) 995-5464; www.capstage.org. Through April 22.

Capital Stage

2215 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 995-5464

Rated 5.0

Who needs an enemy when you’ve got a brother? That’s the question for Austin and Lee, the brothers at the heart of Sam Shepard’s best-known play, True West, now in an inspired production at Capital Stage.

You might think of it as an alternative take on the Cain and Abel story, but that’s a bit too simplistic. Of course, there’s sibling rivalry; but beneath that, there’s a thread of alcohol-fueled camaraderie—and a nihilistic impulse that will not be denied.

Austin (Cole Alexander Smith) is a writer and family man, “down” to Southern California from somewhere “up north” in an attempt to sell a screenplay to a movie producer. He’s staying at his vacationing mother’s home, and his wayward brother, Lee (Jonathan Rhys Williams) has shown up.

Of course, there’s conflict. The brothers are—to all appearances—as different as it is possible for two brothers to be; they are as different from each other as we all think we are from our own siblings, at least outwardly. But scratch the surface and tap the twin veins of rage and hope, as these brothers do, and it quickly becomes apparent that they are far more alike than different.

Smith’s ability to play Austin as a bit of a tightass in the first act makes his later abandon of social niceties—including a foray into larceny—all the more striking. That’s matched by the way that Williams takes Lee from a sleazebag you’d cross the street—hell, you’d cross the town—to avoid into a bit of a lost boy, desperate to change his life.

As the movie producer, Eric Baldwin does quite well, and the venerable Janis Stevens makes a short appearance as Austin and Lee’s mother. But the show belongs to these full-grown, middle-aged boys, and director Stephanie Gularte lets them run with it—as well as throw things, break things and steal things.

Cain and Abel? No, True West is more like the Marx Brothers, if they’d been emotionally damaged heavy drinkers obsessed with small appliances. But it’s certainly all about the brotherhood.