April 30, 2018

DC's Rep Stage has decided to close their 25th season with TRUE WEST. Vincent Lancisi, who directed the first show at Rep Stage and also directed "Buried Child" in 1994, will return to direct. While many people know Shepard as a movie actor, Lancisi champions him as a visionary playwright. "He had a lot to say about Hollywood and duality and personalities, the motivation of money and how it waters down our artistic impulse and creativity," he says. "He was a bit of a rebel and it was sort of an irony that he became a pretty good movie star because he was breaking all the rules of conventional theater with these plays. At the same time, he was part of this Hollywood machine that he wails against in 'True West'."

Rep Stage Producing Artistic Director Joseph W. Ritsch says, "Vinny is really wonderful at helping actors create specific characters. The balance of comedy and dark in this piece is really important. When Shepard was alive, he often talked about the insider vs. the outsider and where that switches in this play and I think Vinny has done a wonderful job of crafting that journey. I think right now there are a lot of us feeling like insiders and a lot of us feeling like outsiders and the chaos of the wild west vs. the collaboration of democracy and who we are as citizens is very much a large conversation right now. This play, which premiered back in the ’80s, feels very relevant."

The play will run from April 26 to May 13, 2018.

On March 2, 2000, a Broadway revival of True West opened at the Circle on the Square Theatre featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly, who alternated playing the lead roles. This critically acclaimed production earned Tony Award nominations for best actor (both Hoffman and Reilly), best director, and best play. Here's a photo of Sam with the two leads.

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From Motel Chronicles:

"I remember trying to imitate Burt Lancaster's smile after I saw him and Gary Cooper in Vera Cruz. For days I practiced in the back yard. Weaving through the tomato plants. Sneering. Grinning that grin. Sliding my upper lip up over my teeth. After a few days of practice, I tried it out on the girls at school. They didn't seem to notice. I broadened my interpretation until I started getting strange reactions from the other kids. They would look straight at my teeth and a fear would creep into their eyes. I'd forgotten how bad my teeth were. How one of the front ones was dead and brown and overlapped the broken one right next to it. I'd actually come to believe I was in possession of a full head of perfect pearly Burt Lancaster-type of teeth. I didn't want to scare anyone so I stopped grinning after that. I only did it in private. Pretty soon even that faded. I returned to my empty face."

Homestead Valley, CA

April 18, 2018

New York's Signature Theatre has announced its 2018-19 season and among its six works will be "Curse of the Starving Class", directed by Terry Kinney. Living a stagnant, unhappy existence in rural California, the struggling Tate family is desperate for change, but every family member has a different way of trying to improve their station in life.  The play will run at The Irene Diamond Stage next year from April 23 to June 2, 2019. Sam was Signature's Playwright-in-Residence during the 1996-97 season when they  first produced the play. Signature is honoring his legacy with this revival.

April 16, 2018

 Theatre critic Rick Levin (Eugene Weekly):

Between my two favorite American playwrights, Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard, I find Shepard to be, inexplicably, the more familiar but less accessible of the two.

For all the remarkable similarities found in their themes — family dysfunction, alcoholism, killer secrets, and the crass materialism and spiritual bankruptcy of the American dream — Williams is far and away the more classical artist, irreducibly genteel no matter how grotesque his subject matter. His work traffics in grand archetypes, whereas Shepard’s characters seem blurry and emaciated, like a fading Kodachrome in someone else’s family album.

This takes away nothing from Shepard, a master of restraint who tackled his chosen territory with a muted desperation and broiling anger that sometimes border on poetic incoherence. The mumble and the shrug are Shepard’s true domain. Because of this, ironically, he is the funnier of the two writers, and his tragedies are more unbearable.

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Hey, here's our Marlboro man!

April 14, 2018

The Sam Shepard Papers are split between the Wittliff collections at the Texas State University and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Ransom collection is filled with drafts and revisions of many of Sam's plays, stories, poems, and other works. Especially interesting is a series of notebooks in which he recorded thoughts and ideas related to his plays, acting roles, songs, and travels.

In his notebooks, you may find a  list of trees: cottonwood, dogwood, apricot, willow, polar, locust, crab apple, silver maple. Or a list of lilies - Citronella, Scarlet Emperor, Thunderbolt, Golden Sunburst, Silver Stain.  Or guitar chords with Spanish lyrics. Or passages of prose. Or unattributed quotes from overheard conversations. In the back of one notebook is a photocopied review of his 1983 play, "Fool for Love" that's folded up with an article about fly-fishing.

Often the notebook covers are torn and taped together. Many are the classic A6 with cream-colored paper and pale blue lines, small enough to fit into a pocket. One is spiral-bound with a faux snakeskin jacket. Several have the same earth red cover and thick black spine.

Inside the notebooks stage sets are sketched out next to maps of land divided into vegetable patches. Scraps of prose and notes about horse keeping are recorded in the same loose script. Phone numbers for Wim Wenders on location and Susan Sontag's NY address appear between other lists: things to buy for a party, actors to cast in a movie or Christmas gifts for his family.

For a complete list of the Sam Shepard Papers at the Harry Ransom Center, visit this link.

Sam writing on a June day in 2006 at a West Village cafe -

April 5, 2018

From the Salida, CO Regional Library - a few comments on "Spy of the First Person":

"This little book is classified as fiction, but it has a taste of autobiography about it. Sam Shepard wrote it, later dictated it to family members, as the disease that eventually took his life, took over. One of the book’s central characters, an old man on a porch, is weakened and ill, but alert. He could be taken as a reflection of Sam himself. And this character takes on shades of another of the book’s characters, so much so that it’s difficult to ascertain who’s who. But maybe that’s the point. At times it seems like the old man is being observed by himself; sort of an out of body experience by himself. The structure of the sentences have a hint of Gertrude Stein, short and repetitive. And it’s all in Sam’s slow, easy voice. A reconciling of becoming older and remembering the past."

April 2, 2018

Clerkenwell Actors Studio of London has announced an event called "Encounters with Sam Shepard", directed by Miriam Lucia. Staged at the Hen & Chickens Theatre will be scenes and monologues from "True West, "Action", "Cowboy Mouth" and more. Performances will be at 7:45 pm on May 9, 10 & 11, 2018.

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Like father, like daughter? Unbeknownst to me, Hannah Jane Shepard (often H.J. Shepard) is in print! She is published in the 2015 edition of "Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from around the World". You can read her short story called "Please Hold Me the Forgotten Way" at this link.

Back in 2013 the History Department at Fordham University recognized excellence among their graduate students by awarding a prize for the best paper written in a research seminar. The best paper for 2013 was award jointly to Hannah and another student. Her paper was called "Vanished in Plain Sight: Scots-Irish Presbyterians in Wisconsin, 1830-1890".

Let's hope we see more from this very literate woman. Here's a recent photo of her taken in late February in NYC.