Saturday, November 15, 2008

Term Paper on “True West” by Sam Shepard

(this is from 2 years ago, I had enrolled Drama Course at the uni and we were going through American playwrights)

I am playing the character Lee in Sam Shepard’s “True West”, and from my character’s point of view the world is like this.

They say they judge the book by its cover. I dunno. Never been into books. But if that’s true then imagine how they judge me – early 40s, haven’t seen a razor blade in a while, shabby, wholes on my shoes, stains on my jacket and dust all over me. Well, it kind’a happens when you live out in the desert. So when I appear on stage those stuck-up guys, who go to the theater and sit by the ladies in fancy dresses probably, say to themselves “Oh, and here’s the bad guy in the play”. Anyway, I couldn’t care less about their judgment. I’d like to see how they’ll manage if they were in my shoes. Here it is, Austin, that sweet lil brother of mine – I got dad’s bad teeth, he got all the rest. While I was trying to manage and get somewhere in life, he was chasin’ college girls. OK, he’s got that diploma, or maybe a couple of them, and I don’t. So what? Does that make him smarter than me? Yeah, and all of a sudden he’s got a wife and a house, and some kids… And all I’ve got is a fighting dog. A damn pit bull. And I lost even that. So people look at me and I know what they’re thinking. They think I’m a no-good scumbag, a looser. Well, maybe I’ll just give you all what you expect. I’ll be your bad guy. I’ll act like one. When I come to think of it, maybe that’s why I steal. Not that I can’t find some damn job or something and make some descent living here and there. But when people look at me I can feel their contempt. They don’t know me, they don’t have an idea what’s beneath, but they look down upon me, despise me. And in return I steal their damn TV sets. So here I am - walking around mom’s kitchen, finishing my six-pack, playin’ tough while I bullshit you with one of my desert stories. But it could be different. If I only had the chance.
And here it goes, this screenwriter, Shepard, or something, the guy who set me up in the shits in first place, now he finally decides to give me my chance. But he won’t do it for free, no sir. He needs his conflict in the play. So here I am – on the edge to beat the hell out’a my brother. You wanna know why? ‘Cause he got freakin’ jealous, the stupid bastard! The producer hooked on my story and dumped his. It wasn’t my fault! So many times I’ve wondered, what is it like to be Austin, to have a family, a home, a job… To be, you know, respected. When people look at you they greet you and they smile at you and stuff… Maybe that’s the reason I’m roaming the desert. No people there, just cactuses. And cactuses don’t have eyes where you can see yourself, what you’ve become. Yeah, maybe deep inside me I wanted to be like him, like Austin. Never showed that though. Too proud to do it. I pretend to like the way I live, but hey – who do I think I’m foolin’? And even if I do fool somebody, I can’t fool myself. I want it to be different. And here I am, just about to get on the right track, to get legit, to actually earn some good money… It was my chance to do something, you know… to leave a trace. I owned that chance to Austin, I admit that. And I don’t mind to split whatever money come out of this. I’m grateful and stuff… But it’s not enough for him. He just couldn’t bare that they want my story, the story he said was so flat and, what was that word, cliché? Yeah, they want my story, and not his professional crap. I kind’a understand why he feels so bad, cause you know, he does that for a living and here comes his twerp of a brother, the black sheep of the family and all of a sudden takes his place. Yeah, must be pretty hard for his ego. But he just went too far, he ruined my opportunity, he totally wasted the whole thing… And now we’re at showdown.

Already told you about Austin. If you wanna know about the other people in my life… Well, it ain’t a long story. Women, they come and go. All I have from them are a couple of phone numbers. What they have from me is even less. My dad… he’s not a bad man, but he has that bad habit with the drinking. It’s hard for me to be around him, ‘cause I hate to see him like this, miserable. I wanna take care of him, give him money or something, but… Let’s be fair – I can hardly deal with my own damn misery. I visit him once in a while, out there in the desert, I even make some plans about how next time when I visit I’ll do something more for him… But then I hit the road and it’s all the same every time. Or… Or maybe I hate to see him like this cause I feel that I’m looking at myself, of what I’m gonna be in twenty years – silly old crackpot, drunk and lonely in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, probably that’s it.
And my mom, well, she’s kind of… let’s say naïve. She still acts like me and Austin are the little boys that used to chase each other in the yard. Like she lives in some kind of a dream. I hate that crap, and I sometimes I even want to shake her and make her open her eyes, but… then when I come to think of it, I don’t really want her to see me like that. So maybe it’s better that way.
And this Saul Kipper… or Kimmer…whatever. He just popped up in the whole picture just some days ago. He seems like a nice guy. We played golf and stuff. One of those Hollywood guys, swims with the big fishes. But anyway, I’m not falling for all that. He may seem like your best friend, but all he chases is his own interests. These people usually make you feel confident, make you feel important, like you know, the talented screenwriter, the bright future, the top of the world… And then they suck you dry, chuck you and go for the next loot. That’s how they make their living. So I’m playing the naïve inexperienced guy with the hot story everybody wants so bad, but underneath I’m wide awake. Damn, this whole Hollywood shit, it’s not for me. I don’t really fit into this. I just wanna finish this, get my money and disappear. But who knows, maybe when I smell the big money, maybe then I’ll feel different about it and I’ll decide to stay. I think that’s what scares my brother Austin so much.

And the problems… Gee, where to start from? I can’t even formulate the problems in my life one by one. It’s like my life itself is a problem. I am a problem. The world is a problem. To begin with that when you’re 40-something there’s not much you can change about yourself and your way of life. Home, education, friends, connections, career… - if you have none at this point, forget about getting any. These are things you should begin thinking of much earlier, taking care bit by bit, to ensure your days, get prepared… And I missed most of these. I lived day by day, like the next week was somehow in the distant future. It’s like a freakin’ avalanche – rolls down the hill, getting bigger, and the more you’re running the bigger it gets and the closer it comes. Someday it will just sweep me over and that will be all. Some will say that not all is lost and I still have time to change the way things go. Maybe, I don’t know… But if so, then why can’t I put myself together and work it out of this? Probably cause I’m getting used to this. Like cigarettes. You promise to yourself “Tomorrow I’ll stop smoking!” Tomorrow comes, then you say “Hey, let’s finish the box and I’m leaving it all behind”, and the next day you buy another box, promising to yourself “This is the last one and then I leave them for good.” Call it a bad habit, call it a weak will, call it a lack of motivation… Maybe I need something to shake me up, to strike me as lightning and make me get serious and do something about it. Just like asthma or a sudden lung disease will make you quit smoking at once. All I need is to clench my fists and believe that I still can do something. But days pass and nothing happens, and when I look back and see all the wasted years, it just kills any hopes… It’s like “Tomorrow I’ll start all over again! A new man! … Yeah, righ…”. And just when you say to yourself that “Yeah, right”, what you need is someone to tap you on the shoulder and say “Why not? You can do it”, to give you a little bit of belief. But people don’t tap you on the shoulder and don’t encourage you. They look at you with contempt, killing the belief and the urge for change. And this makes you hate the people, and makes you proud that you are not one of them… They hate me, I hate them. But while deep inside myself I want to be one of those achievers, at the same time they don’t give a damn about me. Let’s face it - I’m in the middle of nothin’, I have nothin’… I am nothin’. Fuck it. At least I’m on my own and I don’t pull anyone else down with me. The only one that is screwed up is me, and I don’t matter, do I?

We do Scene 8 which takes place very early in the morning, before dawn, as usual - in mom’s kitchen. The whole play takes place there. It’s the usual stuff – fridge from the 60s, battered and with some magnet stickers to hang notes on them… Here, this note here’s from our mother, telling us when to water her flowers, which pots need more water... Poor mom, is she going to be devastated when she comes back and sees how her li’l gardeners took care of her plants. But that’s probably nothing compared to the house we turned into a pigsty. There were some leftovers in the fridge a few days ago, now there are only a couple of beers, unfinished twelve-pack. The rest of the pack is around – some cans on the table, some rolling on the floor… Stains on the carpet, stains on the hangings, stains on the covers, dirty dishes in the sink. And if you think this is a mess just wait till you see the fire in that bowl in middle of the room. The pages of my script one by one going to the flames... Ashes fly around… Guess that gives a whole new definition of “Hell’s Kitchen”, huh? And imagine me, a guy with a 9-iron golf club, smashing a freakin’ typewriter… I mean, just look at the picture, how insane is that? If you’ve never seen a guy on the edge take a look at me. No crickets this morning, just the sound of my hits on the stupid typewriter. And those damn cayotes yapping out there like they’ve gone mad. Shut up, you bastards, I’m the mad one around here… And I keep smashing the typewriter with the golf club. Not really a smart thing to do, considering all the noise at this early hour and all the neighbour around us, and especially that a stolen TV lies on the kitchen sink with a bunch of toasters, also stolen, to keep it company. But I don’t give a damn, I’m too drunk to care. Not a care in the world. And that bozo brother of mine is just sitting there polishing the stupid toasters…
I need a break. I need a sleep. I need fresh air… Bullshit. I need a woman. Yeah, that’s what I need. I need a woman to distract me from all the shit I’ve been through lately. To comfort me, to carry me away for a while… And I try to remember a woman I could call, I try to find a number… But all I get is that operator; the voice itself makes me sick. So I break down the god damn phone, off the wall and on the floor. And like nothing happened Austin here offers me a toast. Again! Ah, if I only could convince him, make him help me… If he only listens… All I want from him is to sit down on his butt for a couple of hours and help me with this screenplay. I just can’t write it on my own. What can I do to make him cooperate, huh? Oh, I know… So he wants to see what it is like on the other side, he wants to try it out in the desert. The fool, he couldn’t make it out there for more then a few days, then he’ll run away crying for his mom. But let him think he’ll get what he wants. He always gets what he wants, doesn’t he? So I’ll let him think it’s going to be his way. I promise him that if he writes the screenplay for me I’ll take him with me in the desert. And we have a deal. Or at least so he thinks. When he realizes that I’ve tricked him it will be already too late. I’ll have the script and it will be all over. He’ll probably get angry but what could he possibly do? Choke me to death? Ha!
At this point of the play according to me Lee is acting like a complete jerk. So does Austin, but that’s another issue. There is an opportunity, a huge opportunity, and for both of them. Big money are at hand. All they have to do is sit down, talk it over, and work together. But instead burying the tomahawk and settling their issues, the two act like some school boys. Neither of them is willing to say he’s sorry, neither of them is willing to settle down his pride a little bit… Instead it seems that they are driven by some almost masochistic self-destructive urge. It’s like some primal instinct that does not let them behave like brothers, but like two beasts caged together. After all the years of failures, they prefer to keep failing instead of join efforts. And that’s because if they work together each one of them will have to admit that the other has something he doesn’t. From my point of view it’s not so hard to leave the differences behind and try to do on, especially when you have such a promising opportunity lying ahead of you. Imagine the luck they’ve struck, imagine the money they’ll get, the life they could have. It’s a real waste!
I relate Sam Shepard’s “True West” to Tennessee Williams's play “A Streetcar Named Desire”. “True West” is generally about two brothers switching places. The younger brother, Austin, is the ambitious and decent Hollywood screenwriter, trying to break through, working on a very promissing script and talking over a potential deal with an important Hollywood producer. The older brother, Lee, is a no-good down-in-the-dumps thief. And the conflict in the play comes when the producer who was negotiating with Austen prefers to take on Lee’s story, considered by him to be a “true western”, but regarded as a flat cliché by Austin. Austin is irritated and growing furious, and his anger reflects Lee’s behaviour too. The two brothers are forced to face the alternative – what it would be like to be the other one. Both of them is at some point jealous and wants to have a piece of the other’s life. But they both don’t admit that because of pride and because of stubbornnes, leading them eventually to end up an a dead end situation, a grotesque parody of a wild west showdown.
And while “True West” is a more compact and manly play, a chamber modern western you can call it, “A Streetcar Named Desire” has more characters, including two complex female roles. The first one is a self-deluded ex-school teacher Blance DeBios. The other is her sister, Stella, dominated by her brutish husband Stanley Kowalsky. Blanche moves to her sister’s place, starts an affair with one of Stanley’s poker buddies, Mitch, pretending to be someone she is not. Infact she is suffering from escapism, alcoholism and nymphomania, especially after her homosexual husband who committed suicide. These factors combined with the trauma caused by Stanley when he rapes her easily turn into a mental breakdown and at the end she is dramatically sent to some hospital.
Though the two plays are quite different, I still think they have some common things. The particular connection is the similarities that I find between my character, Lee from “True West”, and Stanley Kowalsky from “A Steetcar Named Desire”. In my opinion they are quite similar, put in different circumstances, but in situations that resemble themselves in many things.
Let’s start with the phisical resemplance. The characters are both strong, tough men, well build, but baring the marks of everyday life, cause they both have hard lives – Lee is roaming the deserts, Stanley is working on construction sites. I imagine them like men you don’t want to mess around with, cause they can easily rough you up (and who can blame me? After all the characters were played by Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalsky and Bruce Willis as Lee).
The situations they find themselves into are also alike. Both Lee and Stanley at some pont do something stupid. The one sets his screenplay on fire and smashes his brother’s typewriter. The other rapes his wife’s sister, Blanche. Both of them do that because of pride. Lee wants to show his brother some sort of misunderstood sence of independence, like he can cross out the opportunity to take his place at any given moment and continue with his usual life. He wants to say “See? I don’t need your job, I don’t need your screen plays, I don’t need your life! I can go on on my own and my own way and I’m happy with that”, although actually he is not. Stanley on the other hand, much in the same way, decieds to show Blanche that he can as well be the animal, the ape she says he is. And not to forget that both characters are at this point under the influence of alcohol.
The other similar thing between the characters of Lee and Stanley Kowalsky is that they are both forced to share a home with soeone they would rather be as far as possible. And they both have to deal with this other person, who irritates them, goes on their nerves and pushes them too far as play goes on. And if we look at them from this angle, even these persons are somehow similar – both Austin and Blanche fantasize, they both make up stories. The one for living, the other to mask her life. And that’s what annoys both Lee and Stanley – they are out there, struggling to survive, dealing with the real life, trying to survive. They just hate made up stories, how can someone live (or make his living) with fantasies while they are taking life’s hits and are trying to manage with strenght and brutal force.


Anonymous said...

Thanks a ton. It's what i was looking for. For my IOP.!!

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