"TRUE WEST" by Sam Shepard

TOUGHTS ABOUT THE 'TRUE WEST' SET

True West is a classical American play written as an 'actor's piece' which means that it is not about flashy design or flashy direction. It is a piece where all technical aspects are to be as excellent as possible but unobtrusive and non invasive. For this reason the best way to describe the desired set are words such as realistic, naturalistic, grounded, place and time specific.

For a Russian designer the interesting part is to be able to discover, learn, investigate what Southern Californian 'ranch houses' (not to be confused with a real ranch as in western cowboy ranches) which are middle income homes, made of wood, that were often at the edge of the desert. I would imagine that this house is somewhere near Bakersfield, CA, and was built in the 60's or 70's and the family paid if off in time - -over a 20/25 year mortgage. I think, at this stage, that we should set the play in the 1980's as this is before cell phones, computers flat screen TV's etc. In fact, in the US at that time, the phones went from rotary to push button. They were attached to the wall and had long spirally cords to them that extended

The home, in 'reality', could be a one-story home (but also a simply two-story) home with the ground floor comprised of living room, half bath, large eat-in kitchen (which is the set of our play) and a couple of bedrooms - -one for the parents and one for the boys- - that looks out on the small back porch where there is a miniscule patch of green called the back lawn  - -more a euphemism than anything else.

The home sits on the suburban street with a small lawn in the front that gives on the sidewalk. When facing the home there is a small asphalt driveway on the left large enough for one car. There probably is a side door that leads directly from the parking spot into the kitchen - -they always did this for groceries. And this is probably where Lee enters with with the stolen TV.

All the homes on the bloc are the same. The caricature image of this (exaggerated) can be seen in the film Edward Scissorhands. On the East-Coast it would be Wily Loman's home in Death of a Salesman - -before the skyscrapers.

One needs to remember that we are in Southern California, near the desert  and this affects the palette of the home. The colors are mostly primary - -focusing on variants of yellow (including Siena yellow), of blues (on the lighter shades), of whites, of pale greens and off shoots of red (closer to burnt Siena red than bright red). It has to do with heat, sun, dryness and bright, bright light.
The kitchen is a large space with a round table in the middle where Austin (then Lee) writes. On S/L side there could be the door to the car park, on S/R there should be a door for the producer to enter and exit and on the U/S wall there should be a large window that gives onto the back porch and 'lawn' and, beyond that the hills and desert.
The kitchen will have on the S/L wall a row of wall cupboards as well as lower cupboards and drawers in-between. Somewhere in the middle of this, attached to the wall, is the telephone that Lee eventually rips off (and that Austin uses to strangle him with at the end). On the U/S wall is the sink sunken into the working surface that has a lower cupboard under the sink (storage), drawers to the left and right and a couple of lower cupboards for storage of pots and pans. The cooking stove with oven would be on the right. The fridge could be free-standing on the S/R wall, after the door.

Of course, bearing in mind our budget and the size of our stage I do not expect to rebuild a home as if this were a Broadway production. Hence these notes are to give the eventual designer a sense of what I am thinking so that he or she can begin to understand the reality of the world were are in and how I am thinking.

By necessity or choice, one can be suggestive or minimalist in certain aspects HOWEVER, there are certain elements that are necessarily 'practical' such as phone, cupboards, drawers since Lee has to pull everything out of them when he goes crazy looking for the pencil.

At the top of the Second Act (where almost everything can be brought in during the 3 minute intermission with audience staying in their seats) the kitchen floor is covered with toasters, crumpled paper, empty beer cans (or bottles), the mother's destroyed plants etc. When Lee goes absolutely crazy while looking for a pencil the empties the contents of several cupboards and drawers; these pots and pans, plastic plates etc will complete to cover the kitchen floor with as though it were a garbage dump. It should be impossible for them to walk in the kitchen without trampling something.

This is where we should begin and then move backwards. This is the hardest thing to achieve in the design of this production in context of the funds and space we have.

I hope this is helpful in giving an idea of what I am thinking of. Of course I hope to find a person to collaborate with who will not just execute but will surprise me with other ideas and suggestions - -all while staying with the notion of realism and naturalism and, of course, our budget yet also not forgetting that we will need to set and strike in the same day.

John
December 9th, 2015
P.S. A good example of the plates used then is a style called 'Fiestaware'; it is useful as they colours are what it is all about…

MAQUETTE OF SCENE

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REHEARSALS: THE SPACE BEFORE

REHEARSALS: PIXS BY ARIANNA ODON

PRODUCTION PHOTOS BY ARIANNA ODON

FILMS FOR SCENE CHANGE

 

 

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