Backstage Blog

Behind the Scenes of TRUE WEST

We asked director Sean Murray how he and his team created some of the theater magic audiences and critics have been raving about on the set of True West by Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Sam Shepard.

Q. The set really gets trashed after True West. Tell us about some of the props and how long it takes to put back together.

TrueWest-495Sean: Kudos go to our awesome stage crew. Jen Kozumplik and Trevor Frank take about an hour to clean it up and it’s especially daunting when we have a second show the same day.

While we’re on props, people have been asking why we chose Miller Lite.  Miller Lite did a reissue of their 1981 label for a retro marketing effort. We are using this period label and are recreating the paper carriers. Assistant Scenic Designer Chad Dellinger created the look of the packaging of the carrier from photos of vintage boxes and we glue the print outs onto regular carriers.


And of course, the toasters. I believe it’s about sixteen. And we destroy about a typewriter a week.                                                                                Q. We love the moody projections in True West. Tell us about your inspiration and process for creating those backdrops.

Sean: The images in True West are of various shots of LA. They all have tall rows of palm trees in the foregrounds. I began to see these tall trunks as suggestive of some kind of barrier that separated the brothers from the mountains and foothills in the distance. The desert and the foothills are a looming presence in the show, a place where man is more in touch with his more primal self, where the answers to unformed questions lie.


The characters in True West have a desire to reconnect with the desert that reflects their need to reconnect with what is true and authentic in themselves. There is also the opportunity to reconnect with the Old Man out there, their father, even if it’s only symbolic. The slides all try to convey a disorienting view of the suburban world that is LA and how disconnected it all is to the nature that surrounds it. Mountains obscured by smog, freeways that seem endless, rivers paved over by concrete, these are all the elements of a broken world of false promises and cracked dreams. People scurry about in these environments endlessly pursuing success and purpose, and in Shepard’s world, they are as disconnected as the ‘city coyotes’ that howl and prowl in the neighborhoods killing pets.


See True West in rep with Fool for Love at Cygnet Theatre.  Now showing through November 2nd.  Purchase tickets at . Also make sure to visit for promo codes and free coupons.




Sitting down with the Director

Artistic Director Sean Murray shares his thoughts on our upcoming Sam Shepard shows – Fool for Love & True West

Cygnet is continuing it’s tradition of plays performed in rotating repertory.  What’s different about this rep? 

This season we are focusing exclusively on the work of a single playwright. Each play stands on its own and you don’t need to see one to appreciate the other. However, when you are able to experience these two different plays side-by-side, one begins to recognize common themes between them.  Both plays explore a crisis of identity and betrayal. Characters in both shows experience an existential soul searching and a feeling that their lives are inauthentic. They also are pretty funny people as they grapple with essential issues such as disconnection, empty searching and a deep sense of betrayal.

Sean Murray directs Fool for Love

Sean Murray directs Fool for Love

When did you first become aware of Sam Shepard’s work?

I first became aware of Shepard’s work in the early 80s when I worked as an actor for the San Diego Repertory Theatre. At an early age, I was cast as Crow, the punk-rock-pirate from The Tooth of Crime. I worked there when they presented the San Diego premieres of True West and Fool for Love, again in the early 80s. Additionally, while I was in school at the North Carolina School of the Arts, I played Weston in Curse of the Starving Class, a show I later produced at Cygnet Theatre.

What are the challenges you face when staging True West?

Biting keys FFL

The set of True West

On a purely technical level, the script has the two brothers literally destroy the suburban kitchen that is the set. We have fifteen toasters, that all have to make real toast, a typewriter that is literally pounded into pulp by a golf club wielding character, the contents of kitchen cabinets thrown across the floor, a wall-phone that become a weapon after it is torn from the wall! The actual aftermath of all of this chaos has to be carefully considered.

The acting challenges are also vast. Each character goes on an existential journey from the quiet, tension-filled first scene to the all out chaotic war of the final scene. Pacing this progression is important. Finding the way into the levels of envy, threat and betrayal that these characters must portray is a frightening and exciting process for the actors.

May Eddie FFL

May and Eddie – Fool for Love

Fool for Love is both arduous and physically challenging. What’s your take on this play?

The biggest challenge we’ve experienced in getting into the depths of Fool for Love has been in determining what is true and what isn’t. The characters accuse each other of lying throughout the play. There is a layering in this play that conceals the actual truth that they are running from. Like Austin in True West, May is attempting to recreate herself anew. She is trying to escape what she was and forge a new self. The sudden reappearance of Eddie, like the reappearance of Lee in True West, forces a confrontation between one who wants to hold the other to who they have been, and the other who is trying to break with their past. As we explore what is actually happening between these characters, and we continue to raise their stakes in the play, that informs the level and veracity of the physical actions.

Can you share some of your thoughts about deciding to take on these plays? 

These two particular plays are rooted in a sort of realism. I say “sort of” because on the surface they take place in a kitchen or a motel. There are real props, etc. The character dialogue sounds like a realistic conversation on the surface. However, there is a very strong poetic quality to the language and imagery. Finding actors who can develop these characters to the marrow and handle the heightened poetic language is not always easy. In addition, when you are trying to cast actors who have to also be ‘right’ for not just one role but two different roles, this adds a new challenge.

Don’t miss Fool for Love and True West Sept. 24 – Nov.2.  

Buy your tickets now!

7 Things to Know: Fool for Love & True West

As part of our goal to help you understand the thought-provoking work of American playwright and icon Sam Shepard, we’ve put together 7 things you should know about Fool for Love and True West.  If you don’t already, follow us on Facebook for daily “fun facts” about Sam Shepard, the plays, as well as behind-the-scenes info and pictures. 

3 things worth knowing about Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love:
-First performed at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco on February 8th 1983 with Kathy Baker as May and Ed Harris as Eddie.
-It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984.
-The play was turned into a movie in 1985, for which Sam Shepard also wrote the screenplay and starred as Eddie opposite Kim Basinger as May.

4 things worth knowing about Sam Shepard’s True West:
-First performed at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco on July 10, 1980.
-It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1983.
-It was nominated in 2000 for the Tony Award for Best Play.
-The play was turned into a made-for-TV-movie in 2002, which starred Bruce Willis and Chad Smith.

7 things Sam Shep image

Kathy Baker/Ed Harris in Fool For Love (1984) – Bruce Willis/Chad Smith in True West (2002)