|1983 La Mama
Frank Rich, NY
'''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
"'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
"'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
"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
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
"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."