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PTD moseys its improved 'True West' over to PerfNet

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PTD moseys its improved 'True West' over to PerfNet




It’s a plea that’s familiar to opening-night critics: “You should come back and see our show now. It’s much better.”

In the case of PTD Productions’ “True West,” it’s true: An awfully good staging has evolved into a terrific one.

One obvious improvement is the locale. The dark intimacy of Performance Network is far more suitable to Sam Shepard’s play about brotherly dysfunction than was Ypsilanti’s spacious Riverside Arts Center, where “True West” ran last August.

Director Dennis Platte’s show has a coiled menace much tighter than it was two months ago. But the sinister aura only confirms what was true in August: that there’s less than meets the eye in Shepard’s hilarious self-parody of sibling warfare, role-changing and living-desert creepiness.

But even if “True West” is simply an elaborate situation comedy, what a joy it is to watch! Platte has fine-tuned PTD’s staging to the point where stars David Freund and David Chrzanowski seem to live in their roles of brothers Lee and Austin. Freund’s cool, droopy-eyed sagebrush pose barely conceals the rage under Lee’s exterior, while Chrzanowski’s urban-liberal wimpiness crumbles in the midst of a serious bender.

Everything’s sharper this time around, from the beer Lee drinks (Red Dog), to the outdoor cacophony of crickets and coyotes (the brothers are house-sitting for their mother), to the way tipsy Austin not only drags a toaster around like a pet, but now gives it a yank so you’d swear it leaps into his arms like a loving pet.

The show sets one thinking all the more about Shepard’s mysteries: How did Austin, a married Hollywood screenwriter, and Lee, a homeless, violent desert tramp and professional burglar, end up so different? How is it that Lee, not Austin, plays golf, and is such an expert schmoozer that he talks movie producer Saul Kimmer (Steve Myers) into backing his proposed Western while dumping Austin’s project?

PTD opens up other possibilities: Is touchy-feely Saul attracted to Lee’s story idea because he’s attracted to Lee himself? In fact, Lee’s supposedly dumb movie plot doesn’t sound so bad on a second hearing. Perhaps he is a natural storyteller, even if he can't put a coherent sentence on paper.

Freund and Chrzanowski make a fine fraternal comedy team. And “True West” is comedy, inflating to a last-act crescendo of violent slapstick. The production offers delicious touches: a plateful of literally smoking toast, Freund’s howling tantrum over crickets, Chrzanowski’s rubber-limbed besottedness, the wide-eyed astonishment of Janet E. Rich as Mom, who regresses from an oasis of sanity to dithering madness.

Shepard will never be everybody's cup of Jack Daniels even in this, his most audience-friendly play. But hey: I’d play full admission just to hear Freund's Lee bellow with indignance, “Goddamn! The Panhandle is flat'.'”

"True West" will continue through Oct. 22 at Performance Network, 408 W. Washington St, Curtain is 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. For information, call 663-0681.