NEWS: JANUARY-JUNE 2007
June 25, 2007
RUFFIAN scores big
RUFFIAN premiered on ABC earlier this
month, it received many positive reviews with special kudos for
Sam's strong performance as legendary horse trainer Frank Whiteley, Jr. Film
producer Adelson summed up his respect for the playwright with "He raises them
and spends most of his time with horses. That love, for me, transcended the
screen. The believability comes through. I believe it because that's who he is.
I think it's one of his best performances." That opinion was echoed by several
critics. David Martindale of the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram interviewed him:
Sam Shepard, the actor and playwright, loves horses. He
owns them, breeds them, races them. "I've been breeding horses for 20 years
and I've had some luck," he said. "But I'm still looking for that great
champion. They come along once in a blue moon." Given his passion for the
sport, he was a natural to play legendary trainer Frank Whiteley Jr. in
Ruffian, an ESPN-produced movie about one of the great fillies in racing.
What drew you to this movie?
"I was very attracted to this story. Ruffian was a
miraculous horse. She was a huge filly. She was more like a colt than anything.
She was built like a colt and ran like a colt - always ran on the front end, a
come-and-catch-me style of racing. But it was Frank Whiteley that attracted me
more than anything. He was an amazing trainer who represents the old school of
Do you prefer old school?
"I do. Whiteley was one of those guys who paid
particular attention to the individual horse. Nowadays, you've got guys who have
200 horses in their stable. For him, it was like a one-on-one relationship that
he'd have with the horse, which is getting more and more rare."
What insight can casual horse racing fans gain from Ruffian?
that people not connected to horse racing don't understand: There's risk
involved. It's a dangerous game. It's a huge gamble every time a horse gets on
the racetrack. What happened to Ruffian, what happened to Barbaro, even though
the circumstances weren't at all the same, happens all the time in horse racing.
People tend to watch like it's a video game, but it's actually live animals.
People forget that factor."
On Monday, May 21, 2007, The American Place Theatre hosted a
once-in-a-lifetime benefit event: "Wynn, Place & Show: A Celebration of Wynn
Handman’s 85th Birthday and the 45th Anniversary of The American Place Theatre."
The evening took place at the historic Hudson Theatre on West 44th Street. The
tribute featured a stellar cast of both Handman's students and American Place Theatre alumni, as well as a cocktail
reception, dinner, dessert buffet and dancing to the music of Peter Duchin and
his Orchestra. Sam was the first to take the stage to pay homage. Not known for
such public appearances, he spoke for almost 20 minutes recounting hilarious
tales of the novice playwright and the fledgling theater company’s run ins with
the theater world’s old guard and even The Humane Society. For more photos of
the event, click here.
I wish I could credit the artist here but they left no name.
So awesome in the way Sam's character is etched into the canvas.
May 11, 2007
RUFFIAN airs June 9 on
is based on the story of the great filly who was undefeated until suffering a
fatal breakdown in a match race against Foolish Pleasure at Belmont Park in
1975. Only lasting two short seasons on the track, Ruffian was unbeaten through
her first ten starts – shattering records at nearly every race. It was the much
anticipated 11th race, on July 7, 1975 in front of a packed house at Belmont and
a television audience of 18 million viewers, that proved to be her last. Hailed
as the battle of the sexes, Ruffian went head-to-head with Kentucky Derby
winning colt Foolish Pride, in what became the last match race in professional
horse racing. Just short of the one mile marker, Ruffian went down hard with a
broken leg, ultimately leaving doctors with no other option than to put the
horse to sleep. The next day, she was buried at Belmont and to this day remains
the only horse granted that honor. Sam plays legendary trainer Frank Whiteley.
True to life, Whiteley is portrayed as a tough but warm-hearted man with an
uncanny ability to relate to his horses through patience and understanding.
Frank Whaley co-stars as the legendary sports writer Bill Nack. In a recent
interview, Nack said he was particularly proud of how ESPN handled the Ruffian
story, and predicts Sam will win an Emmy. The film will premiere on ABC at 9 pm
(ET) on June 9. Three days later the DVD will be available. It will include
Ruffian's complete race history, SportsCenter interview with Bill Nack,
On-the-set documentary, a commentary by director Yves Simoneau and a tribute to
Sam participated in a tribute to Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo
on April 26th. The event, organized by The Poetry Project & Poets House
and co-sponsored by PEN World Voices and the U. of California Press, took place
at Saint Mark's Church in NYC. In his book "Cruising Paradise", Sam writes that
Vallejo is his favorite poet and in "Motel Chronicles", he begns with an
inscription from a Vallejo poem.
also participated in the Annual PEN World Voices Fest on April 28th. I found
this commentary by an observer at that event: "Sam Shepard doesn't do many live
readings, and I'm more eager to see him than anybody else here (I've caught a
couple of his plays, 'Curse of the Working Class' and 'True West', and have
always liked his sinewy, minimalist approach to drama). He comes up to the mic,
tall and rangy and plain-spoken, and begins reading quietly from his 'Motel
Chronicles', not attempting to compete with Saul Williams' previous theatrics.
The crowd is with him, eagerly applauding prose selections that hint at social
satire and political disaffection. His style is all masculine reserve (remember,
this is the guy who played Chuck Yeager in 'The Right Stuff') and zen cool. He
doesn't wow anybody, but Sam Shepard has never been a 'wow' kind of personality.
It's simply good to hear his words in his own voice."
Patti Smith also performed that evening thanks to Sam's prodding.
"Sam and I are old pals. We met in 1970 - we were staying in the
Chelsea Hotel in close proximity" (laughs).
"One night I had a strange dream and he said, 'You should write it
So I did..."
"Sam got me this guitar in 1970. I still have it and we’re still
friends…a 31 Gibson..it’s priceless but most of all because Sam got
it for me…"
Encore Performance in
Back by popular demand, Sam's latest play, KICKING A
DEAD HORSE, will
return to the Abbey in Dublin in the fall. There will be 12 performances running
from September 12-22.
March 26, 2007
PEN Fest next month
The Third Annual PEN World Voices Fest will feature
the participation of Sam on Saturday, April 28th. It will be held at The Bowery
Ballroom, 6 Delancy St, NYC from 8 to 10 pm. Focusing on international
literature, the PEN Fest's theme will be "Home and Away." Besides Sam,
performers will include Guillermo Arriaga, Oliver Lake, Patti Smith, Saul
Williams, Huang Xiang, and a couple surprise guests. MC for the evening will be
Victoria Roberts (aka Nona Appleby). Tickets are $25/$20 PEN members. They may
be purchased from
Smarttix (www.smarttix.com) or by calling (212) 868-4444.
More Irish News
I've added some more reviews on KICKING A DEAD HORSE by posting
them on the new theatre page.
a brief interview on The Eleventh Hour on the same radio station, Sam spoke
about his latest play. He was first asked about where his writing comes from and
Sam responded, "It's a product of aloneness, not loneliness, but aloneness... I
do feel that writing is a product of this estrangement, removed in such a way
that writing becomes a desperate act. It's like this is what it's like on this
side of the island and you're throwing it out there. I think it's very much like
that. With writers that are very important to me like Beckett, for instance,
it's very much the case. It's like a letter from another planet." When asked to
describe the play, his reaction was typical Shepard, "I'd rather not. I'd rather
have people come see it. Also, when I begin to explain it, it just takes all the
life out of it." Sam spoke highly of Stephen Rea - "He has this performance
aspect, which is very rare in a way. I think maybe actors on this side of the
ocean are more prone to it. American actors are less prone to being performers
as well as characters. Stephen has no problem with moving from the character to
the audience and back and forth. In fact, at one point in the play, he drops the
character completely and speaks to the audience from himself. You ask American
actors to do that and they get very messed about it like 'what am I'm doing?'
But he just does it. He steps into it..." And how did this play come about?
"Through Fiach MacConghail (director at the Abbey Theatre). He approached me and
said we're going to do a series of your plays at the Abbey and, historically,
they had always done Irish writers. Fiach knew Stephen, and I had known him back
when I worked with him at the Royal Court. Then we had a meeting with Stephen
and they put this idea into my head that I should write something for him. I
finally got around to doing it and I'm glad I did."
March 17, 2007
DEAD HORSE premieres
Sam's latest play, "Kicking a Dead Horse",
premiered on Thursday evening at the Peacock Theatre in Dublin and Karen
Fricker of Variety has provided us with the first review:
Sam Shepard's first new play since
2004, "Kicking a Dead Horse," is altogether a strange beast. And
that's not just the dead horse onstage. Some excellent deadpan
humor, delivered brilliantly by a refreshingly antic Stephen Rea;
autobiographical material that seems a halfhearted attempt on
Shepard's part to unload old creative baggage; and the incongruous
setting of Ireland's National Theater all add up to an evening that
feels like a somewhat misfired in-joke.
The lights come up on a circular
stage with two mounds of dirt, a rectangular hole, a pile of riding
tackle, and -- yup -- a very real-looking life-size dead horse. A
man emerges out of the hole, carrying a shovel. "Fucking horse.
Goddamn," he says to the audience, and then kicks the dead horse.
We are in broad parodic territory
here; and initially Rea gets the tone just right. He is Hobart
Struther, a New York art dealer who headed out on a desert walkabout
to rediscover his "authenticity," only to have his horse keel over.
Homage is clearly being paid to Samuel Beckett at his most absurdly
comic, as Hobart tries and fails repeatedly to tip the horse into
the too-small grave.
The key artist Shepard is glossing
here, however, is himself. Hobart made his fortune reselling
paintings of the American West at a massive markup. "What I couldn't
see was how those old masterpieces would become like demons,
trapping me in a life I wasn't meant for," he says self-pityingly.
This and other references (to New
York, where Shepard now sometimes lives, and his wife's "golden
hair") make clear that Shepard is reflecting on his own career and
life, seeming to renounce his past creative patterns by sending them
up. But by invoking all his familiar themes -- the American West,
dreams of escape, tourism, violence -- Shepard re-inscribes them in
his work even as he claims to disavow them.
On one level, he knowingly nods to
what he's doing by making the classic Shepardian battle between self
and other an internal one: Hobart bickers constantly with himself,
another challenge Rea carries off with great skill (if with an
overly mobile pan-American accent).
But the legend simply protests too
much: if Shepard really wanted to "make a clean break" from the
dead-horse weight that is his cowboy-playwright image, then why
write another cowboy play? The entire effort is steeped in
solipsism, into which it starts to disappear.
The first sign that things are
going wrong is the brief appearance of a pretty young woman in a
short slip who gives Hobart back his discarded Stetson -- a possible
nod to feminist critiques of the treatment of women characters in
his plays. But this is a self-reflexive gag too far -- you can't
objectify women and pretend not to at the same time (something the
creative team may have begun to realize in the run up to production,
given that the printed playscript says the woman is meant to be
naked.) And when Hobart collapses on the horse's body, sobbing, his
crisis now seems to be intended seriously, a tonal about-face that
prompts the only bum note of Rea's performance.
This play is part of an ongoing
engagement with Shepard's work that saw a fine revival of "True
West" last year. But Ireland is an odd context for such a
self-referential work; it's unlikely that audiences will have the
knowledge required to fully grasp its apparently intended ironies.
I also found the following comments from a Dublin
It's a real pleasure to see
something of this standard on in Dublin. The complete run is almost
sold out, other than for some of the matinees, and I'd recommend
anyone that can to get one of the last tickets. Although, having
said that, it isn't for everyone. A few of the people I went with
had mixed feelings about it. It is quite cerebral, and like most
monologues, it lacks movement or a dynamic on the stage. The play
starts with the main character digging a hole for his horse in the
middle of an unknown desert. The horse has died near the start of
his soul-searching trip through the land he knew as a young man. He
searching for "Authenticity". It has the feel of a Beckett play and
deals with some similar subject matter. Indeed, some of the plot
devices used in "Waiting for Godot" can be seen in this. Stephen Rea
is great throughout. To hold the attention of an audience in a
monologue such as this must be difficult, but there was never a
moment he wasn't commanding on the stage. I'm off to London
tomorrow, and don't expect to see anything better than this on the
stage over there. Nice to see Sam Shepard at the back of the theatre
at the end of the show also. He seems to have put a lot of time and
effort into this production, and it shows!
you know there's another writer in the family?
Jesse Shepard is Sam's 36-year-old son by his marriage to O-lan Jones.
Back in 2003, he had his first book of short stories published. JUBILEE KING
received some noteworthy reviews. Jesse writes about an old car that only
goes forward, horses reduced to mere movie props, beautiful rolling hills
leveled for housing developments and golf courses, men and women in close
proximity, unable to connect or give each other comfort. He spins a series of
small but momentous occurrences into a spirited and assured debut. I thought it
was about time I added a special page for Jesse.
March 11, 2007
Sam speaks at IFI in Dublin
March 1, Sam was a guest speaker at the Irish Film Institute where he spoke
about PARIS, TEXAS, the film that brought director Wim Wenders
international acclaim with Sam's brilliant screenplay. The photo shows Sam with
IFI director Mark Mulqueen. Sam also attended the Jameson Dublin International
Film Festival in February with a screening of "Jindabyne" starring Gabriel
Byrne, who was there in person to introduce the film and open the festival.
After the screening, Sam joined a smattering of celebrities, smoking a huge
cigar, for a night of carousing at the newly opened Floridita bar on Middle Abbey Street in
Dublin. Here's a photo from that evening:
Shepard and Rea
for KICKING A DEAD HORSE will begin tomorrow night at Dublin's Peacock
Theatre with the official premiere on Thursday evening. Stephen Rea plays Hobart
Struther, a man alone in the desert of the American west with only his dead
horse for company. Sam's relationship with music is more germane to his plays,
and like much of his work, this play is partly shaped by a piece of music; in
this case the ballad "Didn't He Ramble," which he remembers his father singing.
According to a recent interview, Rea says he is very pleased to work with his
old friend, who allegedly wrote the play with him in mind. Sam once described
Rea as a "extraordinary actor." Weeks before Sam arrived to direct the play, Rea
said his focus was on being "in possession of the material." He continued, "I
know it won't work if I'm working on the material. You have to allow the
material to work on you."
February 15, 2007
At the Abbey...
Very little has been publicized about Sam's upcoming
KICKING A DEAD HORSE, opening in Dublin's Abbey Theatre next month. The theatre has now posted this short
description - "Hobart Struther (played by
Stephen Rea) is a man with nothing to prove. So how come he's miles from
nowhere with a dead horse?
Sam Shepard's striking new play tells the story of one man's search for
authenticity." Previews begin March 12 with the play running through April 14.
On Thursday, March 8, the Abbey will also feature Sam reading from one of his
works of fiction from 6:30 to 7:15 pm.
Patti Smith Album
Columbia Records will release TWELVE, the eagerly-anticipated album of
"cover" versions of classic popular songs newly interpreted by Patti Smith, on
April 24. This is her first-ever full-length collection of songs
originally created by other performers. Patti Smith and her band - Lenny Kaye
(guitar), Jay Dee Daugherty (drums) and Tony Shanahan (bass, keyboards) - work
their magic on a surprising selection of classic songs and overlooked treasures
from the rock & roll canon. An assortment of guest artists appear with Patti
including Sam, who plays banjo on her version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit,"
accompanied by his son, Walker.
JESSE JAMES release
The IMDB is now showing a September 14, 2007 release date for the long-awaited
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD.
January 8, 2007
New DVD releases
will be released on DVD in the US tomorrow. The two sexiest and most powerful
Latina actresses in the world - Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek - join forces to
make a turn-of-the-century Western comedy about greedy gringos and the women who
thwart them. Sam plays a retired bank robber who plays mentor to the girls. The
DVD includes a commentary by Hayek and Cruz as well as a featurette called
"Burning up the Set with Salma and Penelope". Both widescreen and full screen
versions are available on the same disc with English and Spanish subtitles.
Home Video will release THE RETURN on DVD on February 27th. The Asif
Kapadia-directed horror flick, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, premiered in
theatres just two months ago to disappointing reviews. Extras will include: a
"Creation of a Nightmare: The Making of The Return featurette," "Deleted
scenes," and an "Alternate ending."
Tickets online for a
Beginning January 15th, theatre tickets will be available
online for Sam's new play, KICKING A DEAD HORSE. The play will have its
premiere in Dublin on March 12th and will run through April 14th. Tickets will
be very limited as the Peacock Theatre, the smaller stage at the Abbey Theatre,
only has 157 seats. No further information has yet been given about the play
except that Sam is directing and Stephen Rea will star.
A familiar narration
at the movies...
It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Sam narrates E.B
White's classic children's story, CHARLOTTE'S WEB, now playing at your
local theatre. Here and there, he received some well-deserved praise.
"Best of all may be
the narration, by Sam Shepard: His voice, the kind of voice God might have
if he'd ever smoked Camels, frames this gentle but potent little story with
good-natured authority, making it feel modern and ageless at once."
...Stephanie Zacharek, Salon
"Sam Shepard's narration keeps everything easy and unpretentious, in sync
with White's prose." ...Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
"Playwright Sam Shepard provides narration between scenes, giving the
film a distinct, E.B. White-like texture. Shepard provides a calming
counterpoint to the film's unending barrage of red-carpet voices." ...Robert
Dewalt, Sante Fe New Mexican
"Speaking of voices, Sam Shepard's craggy one is perfect to narrate this
timeless tale. It's like having your grandfather read to you." ...Ruthe
Stein, San Francisco Chronicle
Filming in Greenwich,
Last month filming continued on THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND,
starring Uma Thurman and Colin Firth. On December 12th, the production shifted
to Greenwich, CT where wedding scenes were filmed at the First Church of Round
Hill as well as at a private home on Meadowcroft Lane.