How "True West" was Won
True West, undoubtedly the best known play by Sam Shepard, features two feuding brothers (one a struggling screenwriter, the other a drifting thief) who collide during a rare reunion. One aspect that makes it particularly memorable is the knock-down drag-out no-holds-barred fight that the brothers get into over the course of the play.
Despite the destructive nature of the story, Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions is tackling Shepard’s script for the second show of their 2011-2012 season. We spoke briefly with Kaleidoscope co-founder and technical director Keith A. Wharton, who stars as Lee, one of the brothers. True West is directed by Beth A. Gerardi, Wharton’s wife and another Kaleidoscope co-founder.
Darwin McPherson: What is True West about to you and why did Kaleidoscope choose to produce it?
Keith A. Wharton: [It is] comedic, dramatic, and psychological with a side of toast. True West to me is the inner battles that we, as individuals, face on a daily basis—whether it is the “black sheep” in our family driving us crazy, or our own personal battles with our own values and morality. Not to mention, trying to figure out what is truly real in our lives. Brothers are brothers, but are they friends? Parents are parents, but are they mentors? The genius of Sam Shepard is that what you see objectively as the audience is not what is happening subjectively with the characters.
Why did we choose it? Why not? It’s a brilliant play by one of America’s great playwrights; it is a well-known yet challenging play for our tenth anniversary; [technically, it requires] a unit set with small cast; and personally, it’s a play with characters that I have always wanted to play.
DMcP: How are you dealing with the physically demanding aspects of the show on both the actors and the set --especially in the cramped confines at Medaille?
Wharton: Honestly, I find this show not as physically demanding, but mentally. As an actor, we have to keep our “instrument” well prepared; however, it is the psychological roller-coaster that these characters face which drains the actor. I love it. That aside, if I am not tired physically, emotionally, and mentally by the end of rehearsal, then I did not work hard enough. And I can say this: I sleep like a baby every night.
As for the set… when designing, we at Kaleidoscope need to focus on a few things: budget; not making a simple idea too complex; and adapting the set to the needs of the college.
Budget: Our January shows usually have the smaller set budget. Everything on the [True West] set has been recycled from previous shows, aside from a few additions. For example: the stove and refrigerator were used in Barefoot in the Park, as well as the wainscoting; the pantry and sink were from Smell of the Kill; the table is our laundry folding station at our house. The walls, although some were custom, were all pulled from our stock of materials at our warehouse.
Confines of the space: Depth - we always have to find ways to spread the stage, and make each set different from the rest. Having the unit set allows us to solidify the walls giving us sturdiness. Everything from the kitchen countertops to the hanging cabinet is mobile to allow for the screen. The countertop was built in sections to prevent it from being too heavy and allowing only two people to move it. This allows the Lecture Hall Theatre at Medaille to return to a Lecture Hall for the Medaille events that happen during the week. As a plus, we built the walls to fit their screen, which allows us to keep 90% of the structure up at all times.
Overall - the kitchen is quite large, and having only two to three people on the stage at one time, the space works quite well.
DMcP: Please tell us about the rest of the cast.
Wharton: Christian Riso is returning to the KTP stage after appearing as Bamberger in our production of Black Comedy. During the audition process, Christian spent two hours of readings for Black Comedy. His focus and commitment to a role is bar-none. The brothers have to have a connection, and from our first reading together, we both felt the instant connection and trust needed for the role.
Anne Hartley Pfohl is returning to the stage, and we are ecstatic she is able to partake in a KTP production. From the moment we met Anne Pfohl at Medaille, we at KTP were instant fans. She has been extremely supportive of KTP at Medaille, and was the first person to be cast in True West, because she epitomizes the role of Mom. Anne is a vivacious and determined actor, and we are proud to have her joining the KTP family on stage.
Marc-Jon Fillipone was our last casting. As both KTP and ALT Theatre are members of the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo, we met at a TAB meeting. Sitting across from him, I thought, “There’s Saul.” During the meeting, it was very clear that his focus aligned with KTP’s and I approached Marc-Jon to join the cast. The script was sent and a few days later, he joined up with KTP, and we are so blessed to have him.
We are very proud of this cast. From the first read, we knew we had something special.
DMcP: How do you and Beth balance the roles of creating theater with a growing young family? How is it working together on an intense show like this?
Wharton: First, let me say that working with Beth again as a director is a dream. She and I are always on the same page, and we trust each other implicitly, so whatever she asks of me, I am going to give it to her, because she has such a great directorial vision with any show she is working.
How do we balance it all? The best way is to say “planning, scheduling, and support.” First, the support of not only our family, but the rest of the KTP staff. When both Beth and I need to be at rehearsal, our production manager is watching the family, or our wonderful nuclear supportive family. I do have to say that Beth is an extreme planner and scheduler. The schedule is the schedule and [she takes into account] everyone’s conflicts and [ensures everyone’s] availability be used to the maximum. So, when it is a tech day, she goes to the theater and I stay home to study my lines. When I go to a review rehearsal, our stage manager and assistant director, Chip [Nolan], runs rehearsal, while Beth is working on the costumes and all of her many other day-to-day activities for KTP.
As intense as the show is, having trust is number one, and that has never been questioned. Which, in turn, has made the rehearsal process very comfortable and successful. Now that we have done this once, maybe Beth and I will get to be on stage together again, sooner than later. More to come...
DMcP: Is there anything else the audience should know about this production?
Wharton: It’s a great show and a great cast for a great price. I think we are truly fulfilling our kaleidoscopic vision and this show represents the reach of that vision. Be ready for some fun, some drama, some violence, a psychological mind-play, as well as an uncontrollable urge to eat toast after the show. Note: True West is NOT for the kiddies.
This show is funded solely by KTP and through the purchase of tickets. We are expanding to look for sponsors, grant writers, and any other donations to help keep our quality high, but keep our ticket prices low. Please book your seat now. Join our blog at our website, or join us on Facebook for production updates and discounts.
True West runs January 27 through February 11. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays at 3 pm.
Tickets: $17 General -- $12 Senior/Student ; 716-479-1587 or www.kaleidoscopetheatreproductions.com
Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions perform in the Lecture Hall Theatre in the main building at Medaille College on 18 Agassiz Circle in Buffalo.