True West: An All-Asian American Reimagining of the American West at People’s Light!

True WestSubmitted Image

MALVERN, PA — Beginning August 2, Malvern-based theatre People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA) concludes its Spring/Summer Series with True West by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard. True West is a wry exploration of duality, masculinity, and the mythos of the American West reimagined by a critically-acclaimed all-Asian American cast and design team. The play is directed by Mei Ann Teo and features stage and screen actors Sanjit De Silva, Ron Domingo, Greg Watanabe, and Ching Valdes-Aran. True West runs from August 2 to 27, with 25 performances presented on the Leonard C. Haas stage, a 340-seat performance venue housed in an 18th-century stone barn.

“I wanted to write a play about double nature,” Sam Shepard said of True West. “I just wanted to give a taste of what it feels like to be two-sided.” Shepard was an American actor, playwright, author, screenwriter, and director, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest theater minds of his generation. Over the course of his 50-year career, Shepard wrote 58 plays and won 10 Obie Awards for writing and directing – the most ever by any writer or director. In 1975, he was named playwright-in-residence at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, where he developed many of his notable works including Pulitzer Prize-winner Buried Child in 1978 and True West in 1980.

The “rambunctious and spontaneous tale about sibling rivalry” (New York Times) follows Austin (De Silva), a straitlaced screenwriter in the 1980s who is on the verge of selling his next script to Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer (Watanabe). His older brother Lee (Domingo) is a blustering drifter returning from three months in the Mojave Desert. The siblings are not on good terms, but Austin attempts to appease his brother by letting Lee stay with him while house-sitting for their mom (Valdes-Aran) in a Southern California suburb 40 miles east of Los Angeles. When Lee charms his way into Austin’s movie deal, the brothers begin to mirror each other and enter a conflict that crescendos into chaos.

The production of True West at People’s Light is highlighted by a cast of four renowned actors. Actor, director, and People’s Light New Play Frontiers playwright Sanjit De Silva (Cherry Orchard) leads the production as Austin, with veteran theatre actor Ron Domingo making his People’s Light debut as Lee. Stage and screen actor Greg Watanabe (A Single Shard) appears as Saul Kimmer while international actor, director, and visual artist Ching Valdes-Aran makes her People’s Light debut as Austin and Lee’s mother.

True West has had such a profound influence on me since I first read it and saw the 2000 Broadway revival with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Riley,” said De Silva. “I thought it would be incredible to present this play with an AAPI cast because, to me, Shepard is trying to find the mythology of the West and America. Who gets to own the West, and who gets to say they’re American? Asian Americans have been part of the very fabric of the building of the American West since the start, and I thought it would be interesting to explore this play with a cast that reflected that.”

To bring the production of True West to life, People’s Light brought on visionary interdisciplinary theatre maker Mei Ann Teo (they/them) to direct. As a director, deviser, and dramaturg, Teo is known for creating across genres, including music theatre, intermedial participatory work, reimagining classics, and documentary theatre. An artistic leader at Ping Chong and Company in New York City, their critically acclaimed work has toured the U.S. and internationally, including Belgium’s Festival de Liege, Singapore Theatre Festival, Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, and Beijing International Festival. With True West, Teo was enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with De Silva and People’s Light while exploring Shepard’s acclaimed drama through a unique perspective.

“I was so inspired by the way Sanjit De Silva spoke about how we as Asian Americans have always existed in these places and how we also grapple with the themes in True West,” said Teo. “It was also clear that People’s Light had a history of collaborating with artists of color in and ensuring their agency in the work they are making. It’s a place that is actually allowing artists to fly with radical ideas and honestly figuring out how it can support them.”

Teo leads the production’s innovative, award-winning creative team, featuring Scenic Designer You-Shin Chen, Costume Designer Sara Ryung Clement, Lighting Designer Wen-Ling Liao, Sound Designer Hao Bai, and Projection Designer Jeanette Yew. Stage Manager Matthew Luppino rounds out the True West production team at People’s Light.

Before the show, attendees can enjoy scratch cooking and theatrical sensibilities in the laid-back atmosphere of the theatre’s newly renovated on-site restaurant, The Fern & Fable. Located steps away from the Leonard C. Haas Stage, the restaurant occupies three rooms of a 1700s farmhouse, complete with two working fireplaces and plenty of historic quirks. During warmer months, guests dine al fresco among the lush gardens on the People’s Light campus. Reservations can be made through OpenTable here. Learn more by visiting www.thefernandfable.com/reservations.

For additional information, of to purchase tickets, visit www.peopleslight.org/…/true-west/.

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