Set Model for True West

I’ve always loved Shepard’s writing, mostly for his use of language, but this play has always seemed to me a particularly male investigation. Perhaps True West is a play about male dominance, perhaps it’s about traditionally male fantasies of ambition, success, and failure. I’ve also thought of his work as speaking to a particular kind of American experience very directly. So, when I was asked to work on this show with such a strong team of creative women—set designer Mimi Lien and costume designer Kaye Voyce— and a director from England, I wondered if we might bring something new to the show, if we might see it from a slightly different angle. I hope we will!

I can’t give away the technical secrets of the show that we’ve been researching and developing these last few months; but I can say that it’s a challenge to light a box with a roof on it! Figuring out how to successfully create the journey from heightened naturalism to surrealism that I think the show demands, while being restricted to the ways you can get light inside something with a lid on it, poses particular challenges to a lighting designer. I hope I’ll be able to create the range of times of day, moods, and styles that I think this piece requires!

BRAY POOR—SOUND DESIGN I first read True West in high school. I had gone to see all those plays one saw on field trips as a kid: Shakespeare, Our Town, Cyrano, but True West was like punk rock to me. I had no idea a play could be that visceral and weird and funny and angry all at the same time. Only later did I begin

to understand the form that Shepard was toying with and inverting: a primordial, familial struggle wrapped inside Western movie tropes. Much of Shepard’s work is a public wrestling of a man’s attitude toward his father. This play grazes many feelings for me as a son and a parent. Shepard writes very specific design notes for his play. It’s as if he knew the bare, open nature of the play would invite conceptual overlays and theatrical tinkering. He very clearly states that all the design elements should remain realistic. That nothing should take away from the evolution of the characters. He even tells you what the coyotes of Southern California sound like. In order to design sound for this production, I watched some classic Westerns. I wanted to play with a soundscape of classic Western tropes, especially while the men are on stage narrating the Western screenplay they are working on.

Research on this production was essential. It grounded me in a specific tone, so much so that whenever I began to design sound that felt outside the world of the play, I knew immediately it would not work. James Macdonald, the director, and I have also been talking a great deal about using the one song called for in the script, “Ramblin’ Man” by Hank Williams, as a base for transitions. We have been trading emails and song ideas, as well as deconstructions of this archetypal song. I’m writing this before we start rehearsals, so we will see what makes the cut.•



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