NEWS:  JANUARY-JUNE 2007

June 25, 2007
 
RUFFIAN scores big

When 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 training."

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?

"There's something 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."

Wynn Handman Celebration

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. Sam and Jessica attended the tribute, which 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.

 
Awesome painting

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 ABC

RUFFIAN 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 Barbaro.

 
Poetry Readings

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.

Sam 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 down.'
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 Dublin
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.
 
Photography by Jessica

Acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark has introduced the photography of Jessica Lange in the spring issue of Aperture magazine. Her photos are described as having a cinematic overtone, moody in black and white, and obviously show that the actress is full of skill and emotion on both sides of the camera. Jessica comments, "The camera affords me a kind of anonymity. I like being behind the camera, watching. I've always liked that."

 
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.

In 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. Literally.

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 Rant blog:

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!

Jesse Shepard

Did 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

On 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

Previews 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."

 
Jessica and Sam

In an interview last month with Alistair McKay of the London Evening Standard, Jessica Lange mentioned that Sam had visited London in January when her play, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, was in previews. She spoke about her relationship with Sam and admitted the idea of marriage has never meant that much to her. "I'm not married now, but Sam and I have been together for 24 years. So what does that mean? Certainly when I was with Misha (Baryshnikov), and now with Sam, they're monogamous relationships. Because we have children. It seems like the sane thing to do." Jessica once said, ""No one compares to Sam in terms of maleness", but bristles when reminded of the quote. "I hate talking superlatives. There's obviously something. I've been with the man for 24 years. And I'm still crazy about him."

 
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.
 
 
Jessica on the London stage

Jessica is presently on stage in a London production of THE GLASS MENAGERIE, which opened on Feburary 13th at the Apollo Theatre in the West End. The gifted actress recently gave two lengthy interviews in which she comments on her relationship with Sam - "Sam and I have been together 23 years, so it's not like I don't feel married. The legal thing never seemed important. The commitment is to Sammy. The average marriage lasts seven years. I've done well... I wouldn't call Sammy easy-going and funny, but everybody has their dark side, and he always does it [writes] with a sense of humour. He isn't a dark presence in the home." Lange also reveals that she's still waiting for her long-time partner to write a part for her - "You would think maybe at some point he might write a play that would have a part in it for me. But, see, when I say things like this then he gets really pissed off. He says, 'I've written a lot of parts you could have played.' I would love to do one of his pieces and be directed by him on stage." Here are some photos from the London stage production. Based on the photos from opening night and the post-party, I would assume that Sam did not attend.


 

January 8, 2007
 
New DVD releases

BANDIDAS 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.

Universal 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 DEAD HORSE

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. With Sam in Dublin, Jessica actually won't be too distant. From February through May, she'll be reprising her role as Amanda Wingfield in Tennesse Williams' The Glass Menagerie at the Apollo Theatre in London. She originally took on the role in a 2005 Broadway production.

 
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, Santa 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, CT

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.