Shepard wrote his first two-act play while living in Mexico; the mirroring acts give him a structure for his ideas that would work in several subsequent plays, including The Tooth of Crime, Geography of a Horse Dreamer, and Operation Sidewinder. Shepard takes advantage of the automatic tendency on the part of the audience to compare and contrast the events of each act, thereby informing both parts in the examination.
Kent and Salem are traveling in Mexico (in act 1) when Kent becomes very sick with la turista, the Mexican slang name for diarrhea. In a crazed, fevered state, Kent is “treated” by a native doctor and his son. Salem interrupts the dialogue with long monologues of the past, a device that Shepard had employed in earlier, short plays. Salem’s speeches add color and shadow to the bare plot. In act 2, which takes place earlier in time than act 1, Kent suffers from sleeping sickness (judging from the symptoms). Again, a doctor and his son are called in to help; Kent becomes violent in his hallucinations, eventually crashing through the wall of his room.
“La Turista” is both the tourist and his disease—a displacement of the artist, with concomitant suffering. Two figures, echoed in each act, on one level the doctor and his son, are on another level the appeal to the hero of a cosmic cure to a universal sickness. The two invade the privacy of the tourist with a curative, but at the expense...
(The entire section is 533 words.)