David McGuff and David R. Remschel

David McGuff and David R. Remschel rehearse "True West." 

Lab Productions will be mounting Sam Shepard’s best known — and possibly best — play, “True West,” for three nights only, opening today.

“True West” was responsible for helping launch the careers of Gary Sinise and John Malkovich in the early ’80s, and for helping catapult Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly to stardom nearly 20 years ago, and both productions are nearly legendary in the theatrical community. 

It has long been a showcase for male actors in their prime. Josh Brolin, Kit Harrington, Tommy Lee Jones, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Willis and, most recently, Ethan Hawke have starred in productions of the show over the years. 

Local actors David Remschel and David McGuff will take on the lead roles of two brothers who face off over the writing of a screenplay, and that dynamic struggle takes on Cain and Abel proportions before it is all said and done.

Austin is house-sitting for his mother in a suburban part of Southern California, taking care of her plants and working on a writing project. Lee shows up after living in the desert for three months; swilling beers and canvassing the neighborhood for houses worth robbing. Austin is a writer with a college degree. Lee is a career criminal. Both share a troubled history with their parents that lurks beneath their interactions. 

Over the course of a few days, both will reveal the deepest part of themselves and each other as they fight 

for control of how the story of their screenplay will be told, as well as the story of their past and the story they hope to write for their own futures.

“‘True West’ is about duality,” said producer-actor McGuff. “It’s about all of us struggling with our darker selves. It’s about the grass always seeming greener on the other side. No matter what you get out of life, even if it’s exactly what you want, you can’t help but thinking you’d be better off with what someone else has. It’s called ‘True West’ not because it’s a Western, it’s not. But it deals with this idea of the West. The show is set in the suburbs on the edge of the California desert in the 1980s as civilization and rule and order are encroaching on this more natural, animalistic desert. That’s what the show wants to leave you thinking about within yourself: Am I denying myself by ignoring my darker impulses? Am I who I think I am? Or would I be happier without society’s restrictions on my behavior? Or is that freedom way uglier and more painful than I’d like to think?”

Shepard, one of the most important American playwrights of his generation, was something of a renaissance man in the entertainment industry. A prolific creator, Shepard was an Oscar-nominated actor working in Hollywood for four decades and was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright with a unique voice that brought a particular Southwestern swagger to the stage that floored audiences in the ’70s and ’80s, and continues to do so to this day.

Shepard’s own life often was echoed in his plays, specifically his violent, alcoholic father who spent years living in the desert drinking, much like Lee and Austin’s father. In “True West,” the father’s specter hangs over everything. Each of the sons responded differently to their upbringing, in some ways becoming polar opposites of one another, but find they are as much the same as they are different — like two sides of the same coin. This dynamic plays out in a dark comedy that sizzles with drama and unexpected bursts of humor.

The cast and crew of “True West” also includes director John Ruth, as well as Ann Reynolds and Ken DeZarn as the boys’ mother and a talent agent, respectively. 

“True West” runs for three nights only at the VK Garage in Kerrville. Tickets are $15 and are available at https://playhouse2000.com/also-playing-at-the-vk-garage-theater/. The doors open at 7 p.m. The show is intended for mature audiences and contains adult content. For more information, call 830-896-9393, follow Yellow Lab Productions on Facebook or visit https://playhouse2000.com.


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