This all-sung music drama in one act is a surreal musical postcard from the inner landscape of the Old West. It mourns the obsolescence of heroes, showing them transfixed as relics in the mythic junkyard of American popular culture. Another kind of love story, this cowboy opera conjures Pecos Bill, the cowboy comic-book icon, legendary for creating Texas, wrangling tornadoes and digging the Rio Grande, and his ‘mighty stimulatin’ catfish-riding bride, Slue-Foot Sue, who Pecos is forced to shoot from the sky on the night of their wedding. The opera takes place in a limbo where the heroes and their legend are vanishing from the memory of mankind.

Performance History

First production: Bay Area Playwrights Festival, San Francisco October 22, 1976.
Directed by Robert Woodruff with music by Sam Shepard and Catherine Stone.

First NY production: La Mama, billed with "Superstitions".
September 1983.
Directed by Julie Hébert

San Francisco production billed with "Superstitions".
The Overtone Theater - Magic Theatre
April 11 – May 27, 1984
Directed by Julie Hébert

Second NY production: Signature Theater Company Presentation
Joseph Papp Public Theater
January 28, 1997 to March 23, 1997 - 42 performances
Directed by Darrell Larson

Published: Fool for Love and The Sad Lament...
Photos of Mark Petrakis and O-lan Shepard
1983 La Mama Production:

Frank Rich, NY Times:
'''Pecos Bill,' which runs roughly 20 minutes, was actually written by Mr. Shepard directly for the stage. According to the program, it was commissioned and then rejected, for unspecified reasons, by the San Francisco Bicentennial Committee of 1976. Perhaps that committee found 'Pecos Bill' too downbeat, but it's also possible that the work was deemed too insubstantial. Though billed as a 'comic operetta,' 'Pecos Bill' is merely an extended frontier ballad that, stripped of repetition, could fit on a single side of a 45-r.p.m. record."

"The song's engaging music, composed by Mr. Shepard and Catherine Stone, sounds like a cut from Bob Dylan's 'Nashville Skyline' as rewritten by Kurt Weill. The incantatory lyrics state some of Mr. Shepard's recurring themes without dramatizing them. Pecos Bill tamed the West 'all by hand'; he was 'a legend' and 'a giant.' Yet the legacy of his myth is not one of heroism, but of death, and it's a modern legacy that neither he nor a nation can escape..."

"If 'Pecos Bill' were sung by Willie Nelson and if the wife he kills, Sluefoot Sue, were Bette Midler, this number might be a lively turn in a jamboree of revisionist Americana. As performed by Mark Petrakis, a decidedly urban cowboy, and O-lan Shepard, who is Mr. Shepard's wife, it just drones on; only the onstage band seems alive. The staging, much of it involving a giant replica of a steer's head, is clumsy; one is rather shocked to discover that the director is Julie Hebert, who installed Mr. Shepard's energetic choreography of 'Fool for Love' at the Circle Repertory Company."

Benedict Nightingale, NY Times:
'''Pecos Bill' is a gaudy cantata in which the outlaw of the title, arriving onstage on a wicker scorpion, boasts of strangling tornadoes, tearing down mountains and digging the Rio Grande by hand, only to end in querulous bewilderment: 'Why is we forsaken, lost in shame, forgotten?' Still, the piece should provide the burgeoning Shepard industry with some useful footnotes. Not only does it contrast the magnificence of the myth with the bleakness of contemporary reality; it also reminds us of what was tawdry and squalid in that supposed magnificence. This is surely the answer to those who accuse Mr. Shepard of mindless nostalgia for the Old Frontier. He dreams, as many of us do, of release, liberty, being at one with the wilderness, but he knows what this often meant and means in practice."

David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor:
"'Pecos Bill'' makes a rip-roaring contrast to 'Superstitions", belting out the tragicomic romance of our hero and Sluefoot Sue with makeshift melodies and broad choreography. There's a touch of sadness to even the most rollicking moments, as Bill wonders why he and his spouse, once celebrated in myth and legend, are now turning to dust in the otherwise-occupied American consciousness. But at the rare moments when things threaten to become just a tad philosophical, the energy and wit of the performers quickly remind us that it's all in fun... In all, a modest but engaging evening."

Martin Kihn, Columbia Daily Spectator:
"'Pecos Bill' is a short cowboy rock-opera, about seven years old now. That piece involves a rock band, and Shepard wrote the music himself along with the gorgeous Catherine Stone, who actually joins the band at La Mama. It is the story of Pecos Bill, the very first cowboy, and his dead wife Slue-foot Sue. Luckily, Sue comes back from the grave to sing. It is a sad work, actually, mocking the cowboy mystique, marking the end and failure of the Frontier anchronism."

"In 'Pecos Bill', Mark Petrakis' mustache and smile are assets, for Bill is not a rugged man here, just a clown. With his red shirt, cowboy hat and toy pistols, he is the brilliant last stand of something funny. And O-lan Shepard, all in white, sitting on top of a sleigh-high giant plastic catfish, has enough farce to match her pretty soprano. Perhaps musical farce is an easier medium, but Bill and Sue sing 'Why is we both dyin/On this land/Why is we forsaken,' and the untuned fiddle plays in the background, and the cowboy in me longed to ride the range. The piece was very moving, and surprisingly precise."

"The music is very good and the actors always engaging. And there is always Sam Shepard, a man who never had schooling, who is the supreme example of uncalculated talent. He may never turn himself into a Bertot Brecht, but America has him. America will always have him."

1997 Signature Theatre Company Production:

Ben Brantley, NY Times:
"Romain Fruge and Julie Christensen are delicious as Pecos Bill, portrayed by Mr. Fruge with a winning what-happened expression, and Slue-Foot Sue, the bride who bounded to the moon on Bill's wild steed with fatal consequences. The music, an off-center fusion of honky-tonk feistiness and wistful Western ballad, is by Looren Toolajian, and it charmingly matches the double tone of Mr. Shepard's words: part extravagantly silly hyperbole; part bewildered elegy."

Greg Evans, Variety:
"Sung entirely in country-music verse, 'Lament,' first presented at LaMama in 1983, opens with Pecos Bill (Romaine Fruge), in 10-gallon hat, pony-skin chaps and other cartoon-cowboy accouterments, entering the stark stage toting a long, thick rope and yodeling a lonesome cowpoke tune. Soon enough, we see what’s attached to the other end of the rope, a large catfish (on wheels) bearing Bill’s wife, Slue-Foot Sue (Julie Christensen), barefoot and dressed in her tattered, dirty wedding gown."

"The basics of the old legend are told in song. Bill, who dug the Grand Canyon with his bare hands, fell in love with the catfish-riding Sue only to kill her on their wedding day. He did it for love: When Sue was thrown from Bill’s bronco, she bounced back and forth between the moon and Earth for days, Bill finally shooting her so she wouldn’t starve to death."

"That grim myth is infused with dark humor and even pathos by Shepard, who uses its outline to comment on the nature of love, legacy and outliving your time... As comic, even silly, as his characters look riding catfish and waltzing around in dime-store Western gear, Shepard grounds this mini-musical in his stark, simple poetry... With music by Loren Toolajian that glides from cowboy yodel to barrelhouse blues and back again, 'Lament' benefits from two good performances and just the right mournful mood from director Darrell Larson."