Mel Gussow, NY
Sam Shepard is fascinated by America's folk heroes,
which for him means not merely historicaland legendary
figures, but also movie and pop stars. These
larger-than-life people and their illusions - almost
everyone wants to be someone else - populate the stage
in his free-wheeling new play, "Mad Dog Blues", now
running at Theater Genesis.
The heroes of the play are a former famous pop star,
Kosmo (looking for his lost roots) and his sidekick, a
city boy named Yahoodi (in need of a fix). Kosmo is
apparently a modern prototype of the movie cowboy.
Yahoodi is not so apparently a modern prototype of the
movie gangster, although he acts shifty and dreams about
being Bogey. It is possible that Mr. Shepard did not
mean the two to represent anything except themselves,
but the emanations they give off of their classic
predecessors add an extra level.
The best thing, however, when seeing Mr. Shepard, is not
to look for explications, explanations, or levels, but
to relax and let yourself be carried away. "Mad Dog
Blues" is much more obviously an entertainment than is
some of the author's previous work. Actually, it is
comething of a Shepard and Family vaudeville.
Both Kosmo and Yahoodi have fantasies, the first of Mae
West, the second of Marlene Dietrich, and the two are
quickly conjured up in the flesh - and gently satired.
Mae, as played in pink boa by O-lan, also known as Mrs.
Shepard, is pocket-size and adorable. As a dividend, she
just happens "to sing the blues like Janis Joplin" and
so O-lan plays Mae playing Janis singing blues written
by O-lan. This Pirandellian notion finds its own level -
Half of the songs are written by the author, who is the
most visible member of a three-piece country combo. In
the role of electric guitarist, tambourinist and
sound-effects man, Mr. Shepard, aka Slim Shadow, seems
to enjoy the show as much as the audience does.
But to return to the plot, which Mr. Shepard does
occasionally - it follows a hunt for Captain Kidd's
treasure (to everyone's surprise, a collection of
bottlecaps) led by Kidd, Marlene and Yahoodi, and
trailed by a rival team composed of Mae, Kosmo and a
cowpoke named Waco Texas who has a fantasy life of his
own - he wants to be Jimmie Rogers, "the old Jimmie
Rogers". As Waco explains, "He lives in me and that's
how I figure out I'm him," which may be a key to the
show. In other words, you are who you think you are.
In spite of its epic canvas,"Mad Dog Blues" is,
refreshingly, non-insistent and unpretentious....
Like talking blues, Mr. Shepard's show rambles and seems
to extemporize and improvise. It has its own rhythm,
which overrides everything, even the occasional slowness
and unwieldiness. "Mad Dog Blues" is written, directed
and performed in a deceptively casual but confident
style, with a deep affection for America's landscape and
December 1987 performance - UC
Mark Chalon Smith, LA Times
"Mad Dog Blues" at UC Irvine is one of Sam Shepard's
early works, and it shows. This sometimes intriguing,
but mostly confounding, comic fantasy bears the
unmistakable mark of a young playwright still exploring
his craft and yet to reach full stride.
A product of the mid-60s, "Blues" is clearly a
reflection on the counterculture era and Shepard's own
stumbling, jokey efforts to describe his place in it.
The author as devout hard-rock fan and sardonic
chronicler of the even harder drug culture emerge
throughout this whimsical play. In that context, it can
be an interesting document of the period and the man.
But what also surfaces are sweeping
problems with technique and theme. "Blues," like much of
Shepard's work during this formative time, is beset by
self-conscious ramblings that often take it right off
the map. Furthermore, this rock 'n' roll vision presages
some of the troubles that occasionally afflict his later
The rap on Shepard's more accomplished plays--that they
can veer toward pointless sensationalism--fits "Blues"
like a snug, tie-dyed headband. The plot about the
space- and time-leaping wanderings of a neurotic Elvis
clone and his paranoid drug-dealing sidekick is so broad
as to be almost unapproachable. The characters are so
vivid as to be nearly blinding, the ideas so rarefied
and vague as to be almost out of touch.
The good news, as usual, is that Shepard never fails to
surprise and, even if clumsily done, "Blues" always jabs
at square attitudes with straightforward shots. "Blues"
is often startling and, if you open your eyes real wide
and don't dwell on any one element too long, it can be a
April 1988 Performance at
Chicago's Theatre of the Reconstruction
Tom Valeo, Chicago Reader (4/7/88):
Sam Shepard's plays, especially the earlier ones, can be
terribly self-indulgent and tedious. Without brilliant
performances, they begin to look like the scribblings of
a pretentious adolescent. "Mad Dog Blues", which
premiered in 1971 when Shepard was 28, is particularly
susceptible to this problem.
The play is a phantasmagoria of images drawn from
popular culture. The characters include Marlene
Dietrich, Mae West, Captain Kidd, Jesse James, and Paul
Bunyan. The plot, which borrows elements from "The
Treasure of the Sierra Madre", "Treasure Island", and
"Destry Rides Again", follows two aimless young men as
they pick up women, search for gold, fight, die, come
back to life, and reconcile. Time and distance matter
very little, and the plot is totally capricious. This
isn't a play so much as a pastiche of assorted cultural
icons, which would be incomprehensible to anyone
unfamiliar with American movies, magazines, and music.
Using these icons, Shepard manages once again to deal
with his favorite themes - rootlessness, greed,
alienation - while simultaneously pointing out that our
view of the world is shaped to an alarming degree by pop
August 2000 Performance at One
Theatre Company, Austin, TX
Skipper Chong Warson, Austin
Sam Shepard once said, "I don't want to be a playwright,
I want to be a rock & roll star," and boy oh boy, ONE
Theatre Company's production of his 1972 play Mad Dog
Blues proves his intent. It has drugs and rock & roll in
Like [Kerouac's] "On the Road", "Mad
Dog Blues" is about two guys taking a trip, and no
matter how you dress it up, whether it's of the euphoric
persuasion or the globe-trottin' variety, a trip is a
trip is a trip. And with any trip, you should love the
company you're with. Both Shepard and Kerouac use stream
of consciousness - hit and miss, at best - filling their
respective worlds with misty extrapolations, unable to
fill in the chinks of their flawed travel chronicle
seeking a magnificent dream. Toward the end of "Mad Dog
Blues", the question is posed, "What about the mind?
Dreams?" But even the most glorious dream can be
forgotten while you brush your teeth.