Brotherly love is nice, but brotherly tantrums and rage can be much more fun -- and lucrative, judging by the critical huzzahs and box office clout of the current Broadway mounting of Sam Shepard’s dark comedy, True West. The play, which began performances Feb. 17 and opened March 9, has broken a box office record at Circle in the Square Theatre by grossing $243,063 for the week ending March 19 (besting the previous winner, 1986’s Hughie, with Al Pacino, by nearly $10,000).
This Broadway debut of True West has won nearly across-the-board raves for its pairing of Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly, who switch lead roles every few performances. The casting gambit is especially off-beat, since the characters they play end up switching personalities by evening’s end -- Neat, business-oriented Austin has changed characteristics with his slobby, unstable, drifter brother, Lee, who ends up plunging headlong into the world of screenplays, agents and golf course business deals.
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.
Hoffman directed last season's In Arabia We'd All Be Kings for Off Broadway’s LAByrinth Theatre Company and is scheduled to stage A Question of Faith for them over the summer. According to the Daily News, this might conflict with the producers’ hopes that he and Reilly will stay on in True West past their June contract dates and until Labor Day. Producer Ron Kastner has said in a statement that he has “No comment about casting at this time. We are in discussion with Philip and John about staying on.” A show spokesperson told Playbill On-Line that Hoffman and Reilly are, for now, scheduled to stay through the Tony Awards (June 4).
No word as to whether the producers will ask the Tony Awards Administration Committee to consider Hoffman and Reilly as one person (a la the Side Show twins), or whether True West qualifies as a "new" play because it's never been on Broadway before. Robert LuPone and Celia Weston complete the cast of this revival, which is 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.
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.
On Rosie O'Donnell's March 9 television broadcast, actors Hoffman and Reilly told her that as wild as the play can get, one scary-funny incident in early previews was a little too wild: In the scene where one character holds a tray of toast and the other smacks it out of his hand, the tray hit the ceiling a little too hard, dislodging a piece of hard plastic that came down ("like a guillotine" Reilly said) right between the two actors. They continued, sans ad-libs, with the scene despite the accident, with Hoffman adding that his friend, who saw the show that night, later told him, "I know it was scary for you, but it was great for the audience!."
Other plays by Shepard include Simpatico (recently filmed by director Warchus), Cowboy Mouth, Seduced, Eyes For Consuela, 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." Asked what he was currently working on, Shepard told Playbill On-Line (March 8), "I've finished a new play, but it hasn't got a title yet." (The Daily News reports that the title is The Late Henry Moss.) Shepard didn't feel comfortable talking about the plot but did say it would be done at San Francisco's Magic Theatre, where he's developed a relationship over the past couple of seasons. On “Larry King Live” in mid-February, Nick Nolte announced that he’d be appearing in the play opposite Sean Penn and Woody Harrelson.
For tickets ($55) and information on True West at Circle in the Square on West 50th Street, call (212) 239-6200.