Shepard flocks to a cause that's dear to Lange's heart.
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune - November 4, 2001

Unlike his longtime lover and co-parent Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard has not been studying Buddhism. But the playwright and actor has other reasons for donating his time and talented friends to a fund-raiser for Minnesota's Tibetan Buddhist community.

"They don't call it a religion, but a science of the mind, which is very telling," Shepard says of the Tibetans he has met. "The culture is a very humane one - you have the feeling you're in good hands around them, that they would never betray you."

Also, "I'm helping Jessie," he said recently by phone from the family's home, where, judging from the clanking and commentary in the background, it was difficult to tell whether Lange or Shepard was doing the dishes.

 Shepard had two reasons to drive to Los Angeles last weekend. The first was to do some re-shoots on the Ridley Scott film "Black Hawk Down," in which he plays a general. The release has been bumped back from November to March 2002.

The second was to get together with some of the musicians he has lined up to perform at the benefit, including Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett and Burnett's wife, Sam Phillips, who might perform the title song from her new release, "Fandance."

Shepard has known Burnett since 1975, when the two both played with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue. Burnett has since scored two of Shepard's plays, "The Tooth of Crime: and his most recent work, "The Late Henry Moss," which closes today off-Broadway in New York City.

"I've always regarded music as being influential in both my writing and acting, and I started out with it," he said, referring to his days as a drummer with the '60s cult band Holy Modal Rollers. "I'm not an accomplished musician, but I really like playing with other people."

Lots on his plate

Shepard, who turns 58 on Monday, spends most of each year at the home he shares with Lange and their two school-age children, but does his writing at the family's small ranch nearby in Wisconsin.

"The Late Henry Moss," his latest play about two adult brothers facing the death of their hard-bitten father, has not fared as well in New York as it did during its premiere run in San Francisco. The West Coast run was fortified by the marquee power of Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Woody Harrelson and direction by Shepard himself. The off-Broadway run featured one well-known lead in Ethan Hawke and direction by longtime Shepard collaborator Joseph Chaikin, one of several friends who talked him into finishing the 10-year-old play, Shepard said.

"I went back and forth about finishing this one," he said, I worked on it so long that everyone thinks it's a rehash."

Several critics have said the play is too similar to one of Shepard's  best-known works, "True West" - about two polar-opposite brothers working on a screenplay.

Shepard was recently quoted as saying "Henry Moss" would be the last of his "family plays." True?

"Yeah, but don't hold me to it. I get a little bit sick of it like everybody else, but the material is so rich."

As for his favorite local production of one of his plays, "I regret to say I haven't seen any of them."

Shepard recently sent off his third short-story collection, "Great Dream of Heaven," to his editor at Random House. "I've got until Christmas to diddle with it, but I'd describe it as having more full stories than the other two, which are more vignettes."

With the second-largest Tibetan population in the nation, the Twin Cities is a logical place to build a monastery, said Thupten Dadak, a Tibetan who owns a gift shop in Stillwater and know Shepard and Lange.

"They are obviously very intelligent and successful people on a professional level," he said. "When I first came here, I thought, why aren't they in Hollywood? For me, living in America and running a business here, it's inspiring to see people like them who are well-known and educated, yet live very grounded, simple lives."

Maybe Shepard is a Buddhist, after all.