By the end of Sam Shepard's dark comedy, True West, the preppie Austin has changed characteristics with his drifter brother, Lee. The neat, business-oriented sibling has become a cranky slob; the unstable bum has plunged headlong into the world of screenplays and agents.
But the new Broadway production of True West has an even bigger switcheroo: stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly will alternate roles throughout the run. According to a production spokesperson, the schedule for who plays Austin and who plays Lee on which nights has yet to be worked out, though at the first preview, Hoffman will be Austin and Reilly, Lee.
Performances begin Feb. 17 (recently pushed forward from Feb. 15) for an open run officially opening March 9 (changed from March 2) at Circle in the Square Theatre. Producer Ron Kastner said in a statement the extra week before opening would give the actors "additional time to fully develop the two different versions of this production."
The casting curiosity is reminiscent of the original 1955 production of Inherit the Wind, when star Ed Begley switched from the role of Matthew Harrison Brady to Henry Drummond mid-way into the run.
Robert LuPone and Celia Weston complete the cast of this revival, which will be the first time Shepard's 1980 play will reach Broadway. Ron Kastner (RJK Productions) is producing the show, helmed by Matthew Warchus, who staged True West in London in 1994. True West's 1980 debut, at the Public Theater, featured Peter Boyle and Tommy Lee Jones. The more famous 1982 staging at the Cherry Lane Theatre featured Chicago actors Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. Their pairing was eventually taped for broadcast on public television.
Actor Hoffman's recent New York credits include The Skriker, The Author's Voice and Shopping and Fucking. Reilly followed Chicago's Steppenwolf troupe to Broadway in The Grapes of Wrath in 1990. Not only did Reilly and Hoffman appear together in such films as "Hard Eight" and "Boogie Nights," Reilly was instrumental in bringing Hoffman on board for True West.
LuPone's credits include A Chorus Line and 1995's Clothes For a Summer Hotel at OB's York Theatre. He also coproduced 1998's Anadarko with Manhattan Class Company, where he serves as co- executive director. Weston appeared in the Roundabout's 1996 revival of Summer and Smoke and won an Outer Critics Circle Award for her work in 1997's Tony winner, The Last Night of Ballyhoo.
Other plays by Shepard include Simpatico (recently filmed by director Warchus), Cowboy Mouth, Seduced, A Lie of the Mind and Curse of the Starving Class. 1978's Buried Child won the Pulitzer Prize and received a recent Broadway revival directed by Sinise. He also penned the screenplay for "Paris, Texas" with director Wim Wenders and has appeared as an actor in such films as "Baby Boom" and "Crimes of the Heart."
For tickets ($55) and information on True West at Circle in the Square on West 50th Street, call (212) 239-6200.