TRUE  WEST is a character study that examines the relationship between Austin, a screenwriter, and his older brother Lee. It is set in the kitchen of their mother's home 40 miles east of Los Angeles. Austin is house-sitting while their mother is in Alaska, and there he is confronted by his brother, who proceeds to bully his way into staying at the house and using Austin's car. In addition, the screenplay which Austin is pitching to his connection in Hollywood  somehow gets taken over by the pushy con-man tactics of Lee, and the brothers find themselves forced to cooperate in the creation of a story that will make or break both their lives. In the process, the conflict between the brothers creates a heated situation in which their roles as successful family man and nomadic drifter are somehow reversed, and each man finds himself admitting that he had somehow always wished he were in the other's shoes.

Sam Shepard:

"I wanted to write a play about double nature, one that wouldn't be symbolic or metaphorical or any of that stuff. I just wanted to give a taste of what it feels like to be two-sided. It's a real thing, double nature. I think we're split in a much more devastating way than psychology can ever reveal. It's not so cute. Not some little thing we can get over. It's something we've got to live with."

Performance History

True West was first performed at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, where Shepard was the resident playwright. It had its world premiere there on July 10, 1980. It was originally directed by Robert Woodruff and featured Peter Coyote (Austin) and Jim Haynie (Lee).

On December 23, 1980, it opened at Joseph Papp's Public Theater in New York City, starring Tommy Lee Jones (Austin) and Peter Boyle (Lee).

In 1982, it was revived at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago featuring then-unknown actors Gary Sinise (who also directed the production) and John Malkovich. The production later transferred to the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York where it enjoyed a run of 762 performances. After Sinise and Malkovich left the production, the leads roles were played by a variety of actors including Jim Belushi, Erik Estrada, Gary Cole, Dennis Quaid and Randy Quaid.

On March 2, 2000, a Broadway revival of True West opened at the Circle on the Square Theatre featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly, who alternated playing the lead roles. This critically acclaimed production earned Tony Award nominations for best actor (both Hoffman and Reilly), best director, and best play.


"'True West' has ... arguably become Shepard's signature piece, the leanest, most pointed of his full-length works."  ...David Krasner, A Companion to Twentieth Century American Drama.

"Shepard's masterwork.... It tells us a truth, as glimpsed by a 37 year old genius." ...NY Post

"It's clear, funny, naturalistic. It's also opaque, terrifying, surrealistic. If that sounds contradictory, you're on to one aspect of Shepard's winning genius; the ability to make you think you're watching one thing while at the same time he's presenting another."  ...San Francisco Chronicle