By Mei Ann Teo
“The world has created no living thing that it does not intend to destroy.” —Cormac McCarthy
I’m obsessed with where plays begin. True West begins when Sam Shepard sits down to write in his mother’s house in California. Brotherless, he conjures this story — this ferocious fever dream. Austin, a screenwriter writing by candlelight in his mother’s house, is etching out a story too, when who arrives but brother Lee who lives out in the desert, just like Dad (whose story is another fever nightmare of all his teeth falling out.) Shepard said that language is “a veil hiding demons and angels … [who reside in the] territories within us that are totally unknown” and it’s said that this is his most autobiographical play — pitting the writer side against his self-dramatization as a cowboy.
Our True West explodes these territories through the resonances of our cultivated and assimilated Asian American lives — also a prismatic prison of the normative American dream. The ferocity of immigrant ambition, the terror of erasure, the horror of having one’s story be disposable, to be pitted against one another for the sake of success, the dysfunction within the closest of families and the fracture of the self — all these themes run through our AAPI blood. And what does it mean for us to have been here? In silent struggle? What does that do to the struggle in us across time? Through time lapse video and surrealist design, our production seeks to go back to the beginning impulse, ride the rocky pendulum of assimilation and de-assimilation inside the self and through one’s family, inherit and live in this mythic battle of biblical proportions to ask: Who has made this prison? Is it of my own making? How do I get free? And in the process — must I destroy myself?