The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

True West opens at night with both brothers in their mother’s kitchen, where all the action of the play will occur over three days. Crickets and occasional barks of coyotes can be heard. Austin, in charge of the house while their mother is vacationing in Alaska, tries to write at the kitchen table; Lee, having arrived unexpectedly after living for three months in the desert, drinks beer and talks. The brothers are opposites in dress and demeanor: While Austin, dressed in a cardigan and jeans, is the neat suburbanite, Lee, in soiled second-hand remnants, conveys the menace of a desperate loner.

They have not seen each other in five years and are awkward and tense. This tension grows when they discuss their father, a mysterious character who lives in the desert, and is further fueled when Lee mocks Austin for writing television scripts. When Austin asks how long Lee intends to stay at the mother’s house, he says that his stay depends on how successful his burglaries are in the neighborhood. He further frightens Austin by asking for his car in order to case the area. Austin refuses to give Lee the car but tries to help him by offering money and a place with his family up north. Lee attacks Austin for insulting him with such a handout. After a pause, Lee calms down and recounts his success with dogs trained for fighting. He rejects Austin’s offer by saying that the north is too cold and then leaves.

The next morning Lee returns from his nocturnal walk through the neighborhood and tells Austin how the area has changed for the worse with development. Both brothers remember their youthful escapades in the area’s foothills, but Lee breaks their nostalgia with a description of a house that he cased. Austin, apprehensive, asks Lee if he ever grew lonely while living in the desert. He answers mysteriously by saying that Austin never really knew him. Austin changes the subject by announcing that Saul Kimmer, his producer, is coming to visit shortly and that he would appreciate Lee’s absence. Lee bribes Austin into giving him the car keys to leave. Reluctantly, Austin does, and as Lee exits, he announces that he has a story to sell the producer as well.

The next scene opens in the middle of Austin’s conversation with Kimmer, a loudly dressed Hollywood producer. Lee enters with a stolen television and announces his regret at returning too soon. When Austin tells Kimmer that Lee has lived in the desert,...

(The entire section is 999 words.)