A classic about battling brothers in Hollywood, "True West" has been performed by some of the best actors of our time.
Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Sinise, John Malkovich and Philip Seymour Hoffman have starred in the Sam Shepard 1980 dark comedy.
It's an extremely demanding show that calls for performers who can combine humor and menace and generate excitement from start to finish.
Steven Adkins and Sean Trew, who star in Modesto Junior College's staging, aren't yet up to the challenge, though they have their moments. Under Michael Lynch's direction, this production is heavy on slapstick antics but neglects the darker undertones. Because of the lack of tension, the show sometimes becomes monotonous.
The play takes place in a prim suburban kitchen where Austin (Adkins) is holed up trying to pound out his romance movie script on a typewriter. He is house-sitting for his mother (Charlene West) while she is away on vacation.
His peaceful life is interrupted by Lee (Trew), a petty thief and con man who has chosen to visit the mother's house at the same time. Lee burglarizes the neighbors, drinks beer day and night and does everything he can think of to make it impossible for Austin to work.
When a producer (Kelly Ruelas) comes to meet with Austin, Lee convinces her to buy his screenplay idea instead. Before long, an outraged Austin is burglarizing houses and drowning himself in drink while Lee is trying to write a script.
The show is famous for its knock-down, drag-out brawls while Austin and Lee attack each other with golf clubs, phone cords and whatever else happens to be in the house.
Those scenes play here like something out of a "Three Stooges" movie. Trew and Adkins roll around on the floor a lot, but the fights never look particularly scary. They never seem genuinely angry during their frequent yelling matches.
The women in the cast don't have much to do, but perform their roles competently. Ruelas, who steps into a part that originally was written for a man, is slick and polished as a Hollywood producer. West is dignified and tough as the brothers' self-assured mother.
Costume designer Anne Shanto outfits the cast in loud print shirts that fit in well with the disco-era setting. Ty Van Helton designs a detailed set that looks like a real kitchen, with a fridge, curtains and a dining table.
Trew and Adkins have a ton of energy and were able to get Friday's audience to laugh at a lot of their horseplay. However, they never connected with the play's meatier subject matter about what it means to have dueling sides of human nature.
"I just wanted to give a taste of what it feels like to be two-sided," Shepard said on his Web site about why he wrote the play. "It's a real thing, double nature. I think we're split in a much more devastating way than psychology can ever reveal."
Where: Cabaret West, Modesto Junior College West Campus, off Blue Gum Avenue
Running time: 2 hours, including an intermission
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and
2 p.m. Sunday
Information: 575-6776; check out a video clip at videos.modbee.com.