Wednesday, 23 January 2013 11:48

True West is a different direction for Medicine Hat Musical Theatre

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Jim Rissling (Lee); Nic Dieterele (Austin). Jim Rissling (Lee); Nic Dieterele (Austin).

Sam Shepard’s True West is a theatrical drama which generally attracts huge crowds wherever it is produced.

The Medicine Hat Musical Theatre has never done True West ... that is, until now. The Medicine Hat company will be doing True West at the Musical Theatre Playhouse Feb. 1-3 and from Feb. 7-9.
This will be the first time in more than 50 years, the Medicine Hat Musical Theatre has produced a drama. Amongst the pantomimes, comedies and straight-up musicals, a drama has never found its way into the rotation.
Those who are used to hearing a lot of singing, music or seeing pure comedies won’t find it here.
There are only four performers in True West with Nic Dieterele (Austin), Jim Rissling (Lee), Dave Cruickshank (Saul) and Carolyn Freeman (Mom). In recent productions such as Grease, Hairspray, Grinch: The Panto, The Sound of Music and their last one, The Wizard of Oz: The Panto or even the upcoming Oliver, all have large casts.
Director Branden Martin said he became familiar with the play while studying at Keyano College and at the University of Alberta. He always had it in the back of his mind to try and do it if ever he had the opportunity. He said during a course of a season, a lot of theatre companies have a certain pattern of what they do: i.e. mixing it up with a musical, a comedy, a drama etc. For Medicine Hat Musical Theatre, this play was the perfect opportunity to deviate from what they are known for and do something different.
“It’s groundbreaking; it’s the first drama they’ve had in 51 years,” said the enthusiastic director. “When I first pitched the idea, everyone (within the Medicine Hat Musical Theatre executive) were totally behind it. The Loft Crew designed the set of the house right away and dove right in. You’re only as good as those around you and the entire crew have allowed me to work with the actors and get the scenes down ... when we were holding auditions, you could tell everyone was passionate about Sam Shepard’s work.
“Growing up here in Medicine Hat, the play really delves into the relationship of these two ... you get some comedy and drama and you get some shocking moments too.”
Lead actor Nic Dieterle, who plays the initially mild-mannered and stable brother Austin, said he is familiar with the story. He worked with it in a scene analysis class in school, but said he made a mental note of trying to take part in if the chance arose.
“It was funny when I saw the audition call, Jim’s name (Rissling who actually plays the troubled brother Lee) sprung to mind and I thought he would be perfect. Within five minutes, he actually called me,” explained Dieterle. “I love the script ... the emotional complexity of the character. Austin starts out tame but as you go through it, he goes through all of these emotions and changes.”
True West won’t be for the ultra-sensitive types either. There is violence and coarse language.
The violence will be expertly choreographed by Martin who actually has a ticket earned during his education in theatrical fighting. He has been trained in knife, dagger, along with single and quarter sword fights as well as bare fisticuffs while in school. He’s looking forward to exercising what he has learned.
“I know it’s kind of macabre, but it’s really exciting to do this. I’m fortunate I could dive right in and (the actors) trust you. We totally collaborated together,” said Martin who noted there would be “blood” during one of the final scenes. He added he couldn’t tone it down or make it small-children friendly though.
“As a director, you have to follow what’s on the page. You have to respect the author enough to do that.”
The play’s intensity was evident even at a rehearsal a few weeks before the first show. The actors were equally angry at themselves for forgetting a line or word as their characters were aggravated at each other.
Another unique aspect is the fact there will be no microphones so what the actors will project will be 100 per cent natural.
“Theatrically speaking, it used to be that there were no microphones and they would play to house of 1,100 people. No one had a microphone,” explained Martin. “I want to get back to that style of theatre. It creates dynamic acting, it defines the moments in the script which are most important. One can sense such things as absolute frustration and panic.”
The other aspect which concerns Martin is that with a play that has so much physicality, there is a concern with technical glitches such as microphones getting damaged or malfunctioning or even coming off. Something like that can be in the back of the mind of the actors as well and may effect them in a negative manner.
Dieterle for one likes the no-microphone rule and totally appreciates what Martin is trying to do.
“His guidance has been excellent,” said Dieterle. “As veteran actors, there’s not a lot Jim and I miss, but Branden is there adding some insight and brought things to our awareness.
“I’m real excited to do the fight scene which is properly choreographed ... I feel better to do a professionally-directed fight scene.”
Those wanting information on tickets can either buy them online at or phone Della at 403-502-3477.

Read 6444 times Last modified on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 15:42
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