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Sam Shepard

August 1st, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

When I started out in playwrighting my exemplars where the traditional male canon of American theater: Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams; and I was escaping my personal background in undergraduate English, with its heavy accent on Shakespeare, Aphra Behn, John Gay, Molière, Ibsen, etc. It wasn’t until I started reading contemporary playwrights, including David Mamet and Sam Shepard that I realized that theater could be much, much more than the little that I had seen and read.

My first exposure was to Mamet, and his brand of hypermasculine posturing. Here I realized that the speech of characters in my plays could be street speech, every day speech, and it could be arranged rhythmically in iambs and punctuated with fuck yous.

Sam Shepard showed that plays could be stream of consciousness, have radical set designs, outlandish plots, and explore the ravaged landscape of the fevered mind. Plays like the Unseen Hand, Chicago, Cowboy #2, Rock Garden, Red Cross blew my mind when it came to the spontaneous shifts in character and action, the stark symbolism of the text, repetitive language cycles. And then I got to his bigger plays: Fool for Love, True West, Buried Child, Curse of the Starving Class, La Turista, etc. And here I saw displayed the full power of a playwright who had developed his own mythos and vision of the world. He took traditional plots and situations and suffused them with surreal events and behaviors that showed the raw unconscious pulsing just below the surface of the everyday. I knew I wanted to write like him.

Then there was the realization that I had seen him in films. Not even connecting the dots. When I was a kid I had watched his films on HBO: The Right Stuff, Raggedy Man… and then later, Thunderheart, Black Hawk Down, Bloodline. And having kids, heard a thousand times narrate the film Charlotte’s Web.

It was a hope of mine to meet him, but I’ll have to stick with his works, I guess. Sam Shepard was a unique talent, whose abilities were transcendent.

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