One-act play. The play concerns the 120-year-old
Blue Morphan, the last living member of a
once-notorious, now-forgotten band of outlaw brothers.
For the past 20 years, Blue has lived in an abandoned
Chevy in the desert on the outskirts of Azusa,
California, drinking too much, eating only canned food,
and carrying on long discussions with people who aren't
Blue is visited by Willie, a strange
bald man with a black hand burnt into his pate who tells
an incredible story about having traveled two galaxies
in search of Blue. For the first time in decades, Blue's
credulity is tested: it seems Willie belongs to a race
of genetically enhanced Madrills, "fierce baboons that
were forced into human form by the magicians of Nogo."
These magicians then enslaved the evolved primates,
forcing them to labor in Nogoland's diamond mines.
Like so many other aliens, Willie has
powers far beyond those of mortal men. However, his
advanced mind is restrained by the ominous "unseen
hand." Whenever Willie dares to think thoughts that
transcend those of his magician masters, he feels a
mind-numbing, thought-befuddling pain.
It happens that only Blue, with
the help of his deceased brothers, Cisco and Sycamore,
can lead Willie and his people in their revolt against
their captors. Willie then performs a strange
ritualistic chant and dance that pull first Cisco and
then Sycamore back from the dead.
Cisco is more than happy to join
Willie's crusade, but Sycamore has other plans. He wants
to reorganize the gang and continue the spree
interrupted by their untimely deaths a century before.
The plot's complications continue in this vein: the
Morphans do manage to help Willie, though hardly in the
manner any of them would have expected.
La Mama ETC, New York, December 26, 1969. Directed by
Jeff Bleckner with Lee Kissman and Beeson Carroll.
Revived: Astor Place Theater, NY,
April 1, 1970.
Perry Street Theater, 1977
LaMama, January 1982
First London production: Theatre
Upstairs, Royal Court, March 12, 1973. Directed by Jim
Double bill of "The Unseen
Hand and "Forensic and the Navigators reviewed by
Clive Barnes, NY Times, 4/02/70:
Despite my worst instincts, I cannot prevent myself
from mildly loving the plays of Sam Shepard. He is so
sweetly unserious about his plays, and so desperately
serious, about what he is saying. Mr. Shepard is perhaps
the first person to write good disposable plays. He may
well do down in history as the man who became to drama
what Kleenex was to the handkerchief. And just like
Kleenex, he may well overcome...
In the intermission between the plays, one was able to
wander into the theater's spacious foyer, where a rock
combo was playing with unabated enthusiasm. I was told
that Mr. Shepard was on drums, and I thought he was
Mr. Shepard is an easy playwright to act. He has a sure
touch for the way people talk, and although his
explosions of conversation - hand grenades thrown at an
uneasy consciousness - may seem to have only a marginal
relevance to the matter no longer in hand, each splutter
of awareness has its own strict and effective
conversational rules. Dialogue in Mr. Shepard follows
along the lines of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. I find
myself wondering whether this altogether bad. At least
he leaves a taste in the soul, disenchanted and
Jeff Bleckner's staging,
happily and easily conversational, with scenes more
overheard than witnessed, effortlessly matches the
fugitive mood of Mr. Shepard's worried and disposable
I enjoyed this double bill. I enjoyed
the corny jokes, the ridiculous ideas... Would you like
it? Try it and see. It certainly isn't "Hamlet".
La Mama 1982 performance reviewed by Mel Gussow, NY
''The Unseen Hand,'' first staged at La Mama in
1969, is from the same period as the author's
full-length ''Operation Sidewinder,'' seen at Lincoln
Center. It lasts about one hour, and there is barely an
ounce of ennui in this time warp. ''The Unseen Hand'' is
a sixpack of vintage Shepard...
play is not really extraterrestrial. It is about the
depressive state right here on earth, on the loss of
innocence and individuality and other matters that have
troubled Mr. Shepard since he first began his folklorist
investigation of the decline of the American West (and
East)The Morphan brothers are outlaws as heroes. For all
their shooting and shouting, they are bonded together in
a love of the pioneer spirit...
Tony Barsha's production is just the right blend of
seediness and spontaneity. Dorian Vernacchio's set could
have been transported, intact, from an automobile
graveyard. Deirdre O'Connell and David Watkins,
representing space-age future and punk present, are
craftily in character. Mr. Brody and Mr. Hadler are so
authentic that they look as if they hiked over the
January 1989, reviewed by John Helbig, Chicago Reader:
For "disposable drama," which is what Clive Barnes
called Sam Shepard's plays in 1970, "The Unseen Hand"
holds up remarkably well. Written more than 20 years
ago, Shepard's comic science-fiction allegory resonates
with a power and wisdom you would hardly think possible
in a work this silly. There just aren't that many plays
about 120-year-old loners, resurrected Wild West
outlaws, and aliens from other planets that also deal
successfully with issues of free will and
self-limitation. And this one does so in such an easy,
unpretentious way that if you don't bother to reflect on
it, you might think - as Clive Barnes thought - that
you've just seen a crazy, somewhat incoherent, but
diverting little comedy.
|The Unseen Hand and Other Plays. Indianapolis:
Urizen Books, NY 1981.
Applause Theatre Book Publishers, NY, 1981.
Continuum, NY, 1983.
Bantam, Toronto & NY, 1986.
Vintage Books, NY, 1996.
The Off-Off-Broadway Book, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis,
Action and The Unseen Hand: Two Plays, Faber and
Faber, London, 1975
15 One-act Plays, Vintage, 2012