Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy
Progress Energy Center
Through July 13
No doubt a toast is in order. Yes, that is an inside joke for Sam Shepard's rough, dark filial comedy about two misfit brothers who get a little too curious about life on each other's side of the fence. Still, it's a fitting assessment as well of the strengths of its current run in Raleigh.
True West may well be the comic Tex-Mex cicada of the regional theater, burrowing out in roughly five-year intervals: The two prior productions I've seen here—a 2003 Carrboro run by Open Door Theater and a Raleigh Ensemble Players production in 1998—came after a celebrated PlayMakers version featuring Roy Dooley and Jeffrey West before my time, in 1990.
Given what we know of the work of two of the region's all-time strongest actors, the PlayMakers' take likely should be compared with the current Hot Summer Nights production, as it trumps the other iterations.
One clear advantage this version has is two look-alike brothers, Matt and Daniel Bogart, playing the lead roles of Lee and Austin. Neither has the slightest difficulty selling his side of this tale of sibling rivalry without frontiers. Matt Bogart convincingly conveys the menace of edgy, rough-trade older brother Lee, who's just blown in off the desert at the worst possible time for Daniel Bogart's nice-guy Austin.
At the start, Austin's married with kids and a college degree, house-sitting at his mom's place while putting the finishing touches on a big break screenplay. In walks Lee, dusty rucksack in one hand and a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels in the other, looking for a place to hole up while he renews his longtime interest in breaking and entering before a possible bid to get back into dogfighting.
What's not immediately apparent is how envious each brother is of the other's lifestyle—and just how far they'll both go for a taste of it. Pure male petulance and clueless machismo will wreak havoc on office machines, golf clubs—and mom's nice clean kitchen floor—before comeuppance is finally achieved. Lauren Kennedy's direction is crisp, and supporting work is strong from Vinny Genna as gladhanding producer Saul and Pauline Cobrda as a mom not terribly surprised to see her boys misbehaving—again.