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Among many other intrigues, the Abreact's True West is a marvel of consumption. The theater uncharacteristically added a curtain speech prior to the performance; its message, in a nutshell: stuff goes flying, so watch out. In its claustrophobic standoff between two mismatched brothers, the production seems to accumulate more objects than it has space to strew them, making literal a major theme of playwright Sam Shepard's script — this kitchen ain't big enough for the both of us.

This Abreact tenth-season opener unveils a new layout for the theater in its second year at Lafayette Lofts, widening the stage and pushing the seating up close on three sides. (And by close, I mean don't-set-your-drink-there-it's-part-of-the-set close.) The current setting of an unremarkable kitchen comes alive by how frequently and easily its performers interact with it — because the space is so intimate that fakery is impossible, they open and consume cans of beer, turn on the coffee percolator, toast and butter bread, and take out their frustrations on a typewriter. How a theater comes up with the budget to furnish and replenish all these things is a wonder in itself. Yet the effect is well worth it, adding a gathering sense of danger to a zero-sum game that tests the tensile strength of the line between sibling rivalry and outright hatred.

This poor, unsuspecting kitchen is the setting for the reunion of brothers Austin (Chris Korte) and Lee (Eric Maher), the former invited to housesit for Mom and write his latest screenplay, the latter an untimely drop-in after a long sojourn in the desert. What begins as rumbling animosity and harmless taunting turns into a cutthroat competition, as Lee's mythical Western-loner life wins the attention of a Hollywood producer, who pays him for a story. When Lee's gain directly results in Austin's loss, the two engage in a role-reversing power struggle that coincides with an epic all-night bender. Director Charles Reynolds guides the rises and falls of a masterfully dense script with adeptly flowing staging, blending trouble with occasional hilarity as Shepard raises a sliver of hope that the men can reconcile.

Grinning Maher gives his character a confidence-man angle, breezing in with a presumably stolen television and believably establishing that he gets away with stuff like this all the time. As the assertive and grounded Austin, Korte's performance is an expressive study in contrasts between doing what's expected and acting out, between the life you thought you wanted and the life you really want. Joel Mitchell makes no shame of his insincerity as Saul the producer, unceremoniously dropping one project in order to greedily chase another. As the mother, Linda Rabin Hammell returns from her Alaska vacation for a cameo-length appearance, but on the whole, the other characters feel like little more than outsiders in the battle of Austin and Lee.

If anything is true in this True West, it's the sibling relationship between its two principal characters. How thoroughly they know each other, how well they anticipate each other, and how completely they envy each other all combine into a bond that, although contentious, could not be mistaken for anything but family. Theirs is a wounded rivalry laid bare in the course of an evening, as the two wreck everything around them in the course of wrecking each other. Consequently, this no-tricks production feels thrilling in more ways than one, by its unsettling continued implications that somebody is going to get hurt.


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