Tuesday June 23: I had the immense privilege of previewing the River City Repertory production of “True West,” a play by Sam Shepard.

This staging marks Blayne Weaver’s debut as a director for the stage, though he is a veteran stage actor and film director. It also marks Centenary Alum, Youree McBride’s return to the stage after an eight year hiatus. He is reuniting on stage with dear friend and Centenary Alum turned professor Logan Sledge. This show is about the bleakest of sibling rivalries between clean cut high achieving Austin (Logan) and his miscreant of a brother Lee (Youree).

The show opened last night and runs through Sunday (tickets here).

Youree and Logan made time to talk to me after lunch and after the preview, respectively. These interviews are less about the show and more about the people behind the characters. These gentlemen are both progressive, talented, and rooted in the community. They are raising amazing families; in particular confident, young daughters whom they both want the world for.

Below is the result of a super fun and slightly objectifying Q&A over delicious lunch at Herby K’s and after a riveting preview performance.

Lunch With Youree and Emily at Herby K’s:

LeVette: You’ve spent some time away from NW LA: what’s changed for the better? What remains the same in a comforting way?

Youree: I’ll start with what’s the same. Family: being back here and seeing family and friends. We have a lot of friends who are still big in the local art scene. It’s great to come back and visit them and stuff. The food – Herby Ks obviously – it’s always good to come back and get the comfort foods you really like.

Change for the better? {Big pause} That’s touchy. Progress is good in some cases. Some things people think are good like the growth on Youree drive and all that, it’s – that’s not for me. I don’t know if I have an answer for that…

LeVette: That’s fair.

Youree: But I’ll say this – one thing, and it’s probably not that big of a change, but I went running through Betty Virginia park the other day, and I remember when Betty Virgnia park wasn’t kept up right and you had the old Rocket and it was just – you had to have a tetanus shot to get on it – yeah, and people loved it but there was just dirt, and it was never kept up, and now there’s a play area that’s really nice; it’s well maintained, and there’s yoga that’s happening – OK, so that’s one great thing that has changed, that’s happening in this area.

LeVette: I’ll take it.

Youree: The growth of yoga – a lot of people are opening up studios. Having that as an outlet, and the bicycle scene – in Austin it’s pretty big and I’m seeing a lot more of that here, and that’s good.

LeVette: When were you and Logan were last on stage together?

Youree: Logan and I were on stage last in “Glass Menagerie” in 2007. That was the last show that I’ve done, but Logan has been on stage a bit. (Logan appeared earlier this season in “Venus in Fur.”)

LeVette: This one is invasive: What’s it like to juggle your family responsibilities with rehearsals?

Emily: Oh, he just dropped all his responsibilities (laughs).

Youree: Yeah I just dropped my responsibilities (chuckles). No, this is something that I couldn’t have done without a life partner like Emily. Obviously we had to have discussions before I could do something like this, and it’s something she knows I have a passion for and haven’t done in some time; it was a commitment on her part and I’m very thankful for it.

LeVette: Is it important to you to have a theater legacy in your hometown?

Youree: No, it’s something I’ve always had a passion for. I got a fortune cookie some time ago that said, “Follow the dreams of your childhood,” and I thought that was interesting coming back and doing the show, but I never needed or wanted a legacy. I want theater to be respected and for you to go to the theater and be taken and walk away from a show and say, “That’s not a Youree I’ve ever seen.”**

LeVette: What about as an alumni of Centenary and there being the Marjorie Lyons Playhouse, and you’re working with Patric (McWilliams) and (Robert) Buseick now, but in this different capacity, do you think it’s important that we maintain something at the college that you can always go back and say, “This is where we went to school and that the theater program was awesome?”

Youree: I do. A lot has changed since we were there in good ways and bad. I like the direction with Logan there now, and Don (Hooper) has always done good work and Alan (Berry) is exceptional, and all the alumni have been friends of mine. I think it’s important to have that outlet for kids but beyond that it’s important to do good work.

This is off topic but you can keep recording if you want.

This is something that is lacking in this community – we don’t sustain art. We don’t sustain sports…

No place, no matter where you look, can support arts, athletics – we’ve had good baseball, good hockey, and good theater and we can’t keep constant support for any of it. 

Emily: Is it weird to go back to Centenary, a place you were in every day all day, and then you go back after being away – do you feel out of place there?

LeVette: Yeah I mean the first show I saw you in was “Hamlet” when you played Horatio when I was still in high school and it was like the “boy band show” – y’all were dressed in modern clothing and you all had this great hair… I don’t know, I think it’s important that you can see students working so hard and doing something so different than we expected to see as high school students. I just kind of hope that we are able to maintain that spirit with Don, and Alan Berry.

Youree: Absolutely. I think that’s important. So you said “Hamlet” – that’s it – you take something like Shakespeare that’s been around forever, and you put this new twist on it. You give it new life, and as much as we like tradition, we need to push the boundaries. There’s only so many times you can do “A Christmas Carol” or “Our Town” the same way. So often people go to the theater for mindless entertainment… When do we get back to the theater that holds the mirror up to man and shows us humanity?

Maybe that’s not what’s happening with “True West,” but maybe it happened with “The Goat.”

LeVette: Yes. Definitely with “The Goat.” That was one where I sat in the back of the theater and squirmed with discomfort, and watched people around me squirm as well. When you are personally connected to an actor you want to get as far away from them as a character. It was great to be on edge like that!

Youree: We have to do art for the sake of art, but you also have to sell the show and that’s why you need your community. It’s a fine line.

LeVette: Is it accurate to say that your parents supported your apirations? To that end, do you think your kids inherited your love of theater or some other such passions/talents? How will you help foster their desires?

Youree: Yes, my parents – I was very lucky to have family who supported my aspirations, and it takes community: my stepmother taking me to rehearsal as a kid, and my dad picking me up. Mentors like (Robert) Buseick and Patric (McWilliams). I wish there had been that support after graduation when you’re 20 and like, now what?

Our six year old does she have the love of theater, I can’t say yet, but is she a card? Yes. Does she have the love of singing and dancing even when she can’t totally? Absolutely! Does she have the self-esteem that any female should have? Absolutely. Will she have our support? Absolutely. It’s important for us to raise a confident woman who believes she can do anything.

She’s an internet sensation in some Rooster Teeth shorts.

Emily: She has the need to perform, but when she has the opportunity, when there’s a crew, she freezes up, but it’s great that she has these opportunities to learn!

LeVette Favorite Color?

Youree: Green. Always forest green.

LeVette: Fragrance?

Youree: No fragrance. In fact, on one of our first outings before we started dating, we were at the mall. I sprayed fragrance on Emily, and she didn’t talk to me for a week.

LeVette: Favorite shirt purveyor?

Youree: Shirt purveyor… I know I’m 40 something, and I should be a grown man. When I work, I wear suits every day, even in 100 degree weather. So I lead a double life and so Rooster Teeth t-shirts because they are provided for me. (Emily McBride works for Rooster Teeth.)

**After seeing the preview performance I can attest that this is neither a Youree nor a Logan that I have ever seen. They both give tremendous performances full of tension, wonderful comedic timing and a fraternal chemistry that can’t be imitated.

After Preview Night with Logan Sledge

LeVette: How does it feel to be back on stage with your homeboy?

Logan: It’s been incredible. It’s a lot of fun.

LeVette: There’s a lot of tension in this one; is it difficult to develop that kind of relationship when y’all are really close friends and you have to create this animosity?

Logan: It’s funny, Youree and I in the 20 years that we’ve been friends we’ve had maybe gotten into maybe one argument and these brothers are at each other’s throats. It’s been unusual in the sense that I’ve really gone more into the circumstances of the characters rather than trying to play off of personal things.

LeVette: In the show, you start off so uptight and really by the end of it you’re pretty out there. Tell me something about developing this character.

Logan: I like playing characters that are on the verge of something – whatever it may be. I think Austin is in two parts – well the play is presented in two parts. The biggest challenge to me is that I like to meet things head on, but this character is maxed out on conflict in the first act. So the challenge for me is finding internal energy – momentum when I could feel my energy dropping.

LeVette: What does an opportunity like this do for you in the classroom?

Logan: It’s invaluable. It sounds cliché, but I learn so much each time I go on stage, and it makes me a better teacher. If my students come to the show, they are getting that opportunity to learn while they watch professional work being done.

LeVette: Is it important to you to have a theater legacy on your hometown? How do you feel about how you’re contributing to the Marjorie Lyons Playhouse legacy, transitioning from student to professor?

Logan: We are, not to sound arrogant, but in some ways you, me, and Ryan (Williams) are like the young guns who came through that MLP program that was so strong, and I think we have an obligation in some ways to continue growing theater in this community. And not just any theater, but really solid, good theater, and I feel it’s our responsibility in some ways.

LeVette: Favorite color and shirt purveyor?

Logan: GREEN

I don’t like to buy new clothes; I like to get shirts that are secondhand.

LeVette: Do you think your daughter inherited your love of theater – or some other such passions/talents? How will you help foster her desires?

Logan: Yeah, I only have one daughter who’s eight compared to Youree with two kids, and she’s still in school right now, which has been good because we’ve been rehearsing during the day and at nights. But there’s been some flexibility to make it work.

I fear that she might love the theater. She was in the last play we did at Centenary, and she enjoyed the atmosphere and being around the older kids. It’s unconscious now, and I don’t want to push her in any direction, but if she chooses I will support her and give guidance.

LeVette: I was joking at lunch yesterday that after the theater and karate she may skip theater, and become an international spy.

Logan: Sadie Sledge, it’s kind of a spy name (chuckles).

A few moments later still after the show

LeVette: Did you feel pressure to get in shape?

Youree: Well, obviously, you can tell when I took off my shirt, the physique I had to have for this show.

Actually, no, I knew when I read the script I would have to get into better shape as a character not physically, because I don’t think he’s a muscle bound guy. I didn’t want to be toned – just have stamina.

Logan: Austin is a nerd in so I didn’t want to make him buff, but I did do more cardio to keep stamina up for the show.

LeVette: So you didn’t develop a kombucha habit or anything?

Logan and Youree: No, I kept my diet the same.

McBride resides in Austin, Texas with his wife, Emily, and their daughter and son. Sledge, his wife Sarah, and their daughter reside in Shreveport. Sledge teaches theater at Centenary College. Photo above: Logan (left) and Youree. Photo by Candace Higginbotham.