True West

About the Director

Joanna Rotté

JOANNA ROTTÉ is a writer, actor, and director. She is Professor of Theatre and former chair of the Villanova theatre department. At Villanova, she has directed Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Endgame, David Rabe's In the Boom Boom Room, Tina Howe's The Art of Dining, and Sam Shepard's True West and The Tooth of Crime, as well as numerous works by Caryl Churchill, including Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Top Girls, Vinegar Tom, Owners, Fen, and Ice Cream. Her own plays, Prajna, Death of the Father, and Art Talk, have been featured presentations of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Rotté is the author of Scene Change (A Theatre Diary: Prague, Moscow, Leningrad) and Acting With Adler. She writes a quarterly column for the New York-based newspaper, Soul of the American Actor, a version of which she posts on her website, www.homepage.villanova.edu/joanna.rotte. Rotté appeared on stage at Villanova Theatre last season as the Catwoman in Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats...

Press Release

True West Press Release

Villanova Theatre opens the 2002­2003 season with True West, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard’s dark comedy about family dysfunction and sibling rivalry. True West is directed by Villanova theatre professor Joanna Rotté and runs October 1­13, 2002, at Vasey Hall on the Villanova University campus. Show times are 8:00pm Tuesday-­Saturday and 2:00pm Sunday. Tickets are priced $18-­$22 and may be ordered by calling the Villanova Theatre Box Office at (610) 519-7474.

In True West, Austin, an Ivy League-educated writer, has returned to his childhood home outside L.A., intent on selling his latest script to a Hollywood producer. Austin’s world is turned upside down when his older brother, Lee, a rogue drifter, shows up and tries to sell the producer his story ­ a “true” American western. As the two estranged brothers wrangle over their screenplays, bicker, get drunk, and trash their mother’s tidy suburban bungalow, they come to realize that deep down they may not be so different after all.

Rotté, who directed Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime at Villanova Theatre in 1996, says she is drawn to True West because of its exploration of the fluidity of identity and how the two brothers, with their seemingly disparate personalities, start to resemble each other by the play’s end.

“The idea that I value in this play is Shepard’s insight that we as human beings do not have a fixed self, though we behave as if we do. The result is the performance of a fabricated self,” said Rotté. “The play is about the manufacturing of self that we all do, the construction of a persona.

“In True West, Austin adopts the appearance of a successful screenwriter and Lee creates this persona of a cowboy outlaw. The two do things that contribute to feeding these appearances, but they mainly do it as a performance in order to impress or dominate the other,” Rotté explained.

“It’s not so much that Austin is a successful screenwriter, it’s that he is doing everything that one needs to do to look like a successful screenwriter,” Rotté said. “In the meantime, Lee is saying, ‘Hey, look at me... I’m an outlaw.’ Each has the costume, the way of talking, the accouterment. What I think Shepard reveals in True West is that this constructed self can disintegrate at any moment...not only disintegrate but can practically become the opposite.”

As the play progresses, the brothers behavior starts to grow more and fractious and each begins to act like the other. Lee enthusiastically pitches his movie idea to the intrigued producer and sets out to write a screenplay, while Austin grows increasingly sullen and violent.

“Critics perceive True West as a one-note play ­ a simple story about two brothers who hate each other,” said Rotté. “But, there is love between these two guys based on a shared childhood. Shepard mines the dynamic of what it is like to admire and envy a sibling who represents a self you chose not to become.”

The role of the bookish screenwriter, Austin, is portrayed by Christopher Pegg, a part-time graduate theatre student who also works as a teacher and director for the comedy improv troupe, The Second City. A veteran of film, stage, and commercials, Pegg recently shot a pilot for The Learning Channel and two national commercials for MTV. Austin’s ne’er-do-well brother, Lee, is played by theatre graduate student John Kiefer Galla, who will make his Villanova Theatre debut in True West.

Villanova theatre professor and Barrymore-nominated actor Benjamin Lloyd portrays the Hollywood producer, Saul. Lloyd has acted professionally at many local theaters, including The Wilma Theater, Arden Theatre Company, InterAct Theatre, and The People’s Light & Theatre Company, where he is a member of the acting company. Theatre graduate student and acting scholar Noëlle Nettl appears as Austin and Lee’s mother, who arrives home early from vacation to find her home upended and her two sons at each other’s throats. Nettl has worked for the past 10 years in television and film.

True West’s playwright, Sam Shepard, was born Samuel Shepard Rogers on November 5, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, IL. His father’s career in the military caused the family to move numerous times before they settled on a farm in Duarte, California. After spending a year in college studying agriculture, Shepard chose instead to pursue a career in theatre. He moved to New York City in 1963 and found quick success as a playwright, winning an Obie Award for his play La Turista (1966) and garnering critical acclaim for Mad Dog Blues (1971).

Shepard spent four years in England, where he wrote two of his most notable plays The Tooth of Crime (1972) and Geography of a Horse Dreamer (1974). After returning to the U.S., he spent time as playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. It was during this period that Shepard began to explore the issues of family in his work, writing Curse of the Starving Class (1976), the Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child (1978), and True West (1980). In 1984, he received recognition for his extensive film work, winning an Oscar nomination for his performance in The Right Stuff (1983) and being awarded the Cannes Film Festival’s Golden Palm for his screenplay, Paris, Texas (1984). Shepard’s recent work for the stage includes A Lie of the Mind (1986; Drama Desk Award and New York Drama Critics Circle Award - Best New Play), Simpatico (1994), and The Late Henry Moss (2000). In 1986, Shepard was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and, in 1992, he received their Gold Medal for Drama.

Rotté is a full professor and former chair of the Villanova University theatre department. She also teaches a master class at the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York City. Most recently at Villanova, Rotté has directed Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Endgame, David Rabe's In the Boom Boom Room, and Tina Howe's The Art of Dining, as well as numerous works by Caryl Churchill, including Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Top Girls, Vinegar Tom, Owners, Fen, and Ice Cream. Her own plays, Prajna, Death of the Father, and Art Talk, have been featured presentations of the Philadelphia Fringe Festivals. Rotté is the author of Scene Change (A Theatre Diary: Prague, Moscow, Leningrad) and Acting With Adler. She writes a quarterly column for the New York-based newspaper, Soul of the American Actor, a version of which she posts on her website, www.homepage.villanova.edu/joanna.rotte.

The production team assembled for True West includes Scenic Designer Hiroshi Iwasaki, Costume Designer Janus Stefanowicz, Lighting Designer Jerold R. Forsyth, Sound Designer Matt Callahan, Properties Designer cdavid hall-cottrill, Fight Choreographer John Bellomo, and Dramaturg Brian Manelski.

True West performs October 1­13, 2002. Press Opening is Wednesday, October 2, 2002, at 8:00pm. Performances are held in Vasey Hall, Lancaster & Ithan Avenues, on the Villanova University campus. Showtimes are 8:00pm Tuesday-­Saturday and 2:00pm Sunday. Tickets are priced $18-­$22, with discounts for seniors, groups, and students.

For tickets and information, call the Villanova Theatre Box Office at 610-519-7474 or visit http://www.villanova.edu/artsci/theatre/.

Cast of Characters

Austin: Christopher Pegg
Lee: John Kiefer Galla
Saul Kimmer: Benjamin Lloyd
Mom: Noëlle