Sam Shepard 1943-
Born Samuel Shepard Rogers.
Emerging from the off-off-Broadway theater community in the 1960s, Shepard has been acclaimed as the premier American dramatist of his generation, particularly for his explorations of American myths and archetypes. Shepard's works are marked by a highly theatrical presentation emphasizing forceful language and visual imagery, and they commonly possess enigmatic structures that can be interpreted on both mythic and realistic levels. Thematically, his work often confronts the cultural identity of the United States, utilizing cowboy trappings and Western locales to dramatize the influence and corruption of the American frontier. Shepard has also been concerned with the dynamics of the American family, portraying the irresistible yet sometimes destructive force that relatives wield over one another.
Shepard was born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. His father was in the Army Air Corps, and after World War II the family shuttled between various military bases before settling in Duarte, California. Shepard has described his family life as chaotic; his father was an alcoholic, and he and Shepard eventually clashed in violent confrontations. In the early 1960s Shepard left home, eventually migrating to New York City in 1963. ";I was very lucky to have arrived in New York at that time,"; Shepard has stated, ";because the whole off-off-Broadway theatre was just starting."; By his own admission, he ";hardly knew anything about the theatre"; at that time, but his work soon became a staple of New York's experimental theaters. In addition to writing plays, he was a member of the rock band The Holy Modal Rounders in the late 1960s. His interest in music partially motivated his move to England in 1971, as he hoped to join a rock band in London. Although this plan never materialized, Shepard settled in the London area where he assumed the role of stage director for some of his plays. After returning to the United States in 1974, film acting became a new field of interest for Shepard. His movie credits include the films Days of Heaven, Frances, The Right Stuff (for which he received an Oscar nomination), and the film adaptation of his own play Fool for Love. With this exposure, Shepard attracted much media interest, attention that increased in the early 1980s when he divorced his wife to begin a relationship with film star Jessica Lange. For a time Shepard the movie star threatened to overshadow Shepard the playwright, but he continued to produce plays on a regular basis through the mid-1980s, often serving as the stage director for the initial presentations. Following the staging of A Lie of the Mind in 1985, Shepard's output as a playwright has slowed, although he continues to be involved in feature film projects as an actor, screenwriter, and director.
Shepard's work is marked by a distinct style change mat occurred roughly midway through his career. His early oneact plays are abstract and absurdist explorations mat are often compared to the drama of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. These works eschew traditional plotting and characterization in favor of linguistic pyrotechnics, minimal story lines, and striking imagery. One of his trademark devices in these initial works are explosive and lengthy soliloquies—often referred to as ";arias"; by critics. The Rock Garden, one of Shepard's earliest works, offers a case in point. The play culminates in a verbal outburst by a teen-ager who details his sexual techniques to his dumbstruck father. Shepard's characterization in the early plays is also unusual. Avoiding conventional dictates regarding the creation of consistent and believable figures, Shepard often imbues his characters with cartoon-like qualities and also employs startling behavioral transformations. As Shepard has explained, he created characters that were ";constantly unidentifiable, shifting through the actor, so that the actor could play anything, and the audience was never expected to identify with the character."; Such an approach tends to emphasize the theatrical quality of the event itself as much as the story that is being presented, and Shepard exploits this situation by creating highly provocative images to command the audience's attention. In Operation Sidewinder a...
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Overall, Shepard's work has received largely enthusiastic reviews, although critics have sometimes had difficulty articulating the merits of his unconventional methods. His initial plays were often dismissed as being bad imitations of the works of earlier absurdist playwrights, and detractors complained about the obscure nature of his work. Others have since championed Shepard's plays, however, recognizing them as part of the postmodern departure from traditional literary modes. Works such as The Tooth of Crime and Cowboy Mouth have been commended for imaginatively employing elements of popular culture and for critiquing the American fixation on fame and celebrity. Likewise, the nonrealistic elements of Shepard's dramas have been acclaimed for focusing attention on the act of performing and on the audience's role in the artistic process. His later works have also been generally well-regarded, but for somewhat different reasons. Their greater emphasis on content rather than form has led to wider popularity, but it has also prompted complaints that Shepard is repeating the same ideas rather than exploring new themes. The preponderance of masculine characters and archetypes in his work has led some critics to question his ability and desire to consider female characters in depth. Despite these reservations, reviewers have frequently granted Shepard a pivotal role in contemporary American theater, applauding his ability to create accessible dramas while pioneering nontraditional techniques. As Jack Kroll has stated, Shepard's work has ";overturned theatrical conventions and created a new kind of drama filled with violence, lyricism and an intensely American compound of comic and tragic power.";
The Rock Garden 1964
Up to Thursday 1965
Rocking Chair 1965
Icarus's Mother 1965
4-H Club 1965
Fourteen Hundred Thousand 1966
Red Cross 1966
Melodrama Play 1966
La Turista 1967
Cowboys #2 1967
Forensic and the Navigators 1967
Shaved Splits 1969
Holy Ghostly 1970
Operation Sidewinder 1970
The Unseen Hand 1970
Mad Dog Blues 1971
Cowboy Mouth [with Patti Smith] 1971
Back Bog Beast Bait 1971
The Tooth of Crime 1972
Blue Bitch 1973
Nightwalk [with Megan Terry and Jean-Claude van Itallie] 1973
Geography of a Horse Dreamer 1974
Little Ocean 1974
Killer's Head 1975
Angel City 1976
The Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife 1976
Suicide in B Flat 1976
Curse of the Starving Class 1977
Buried Child 1978
Savage/Love [with Joseph Chaikin] 1978
Tongues [with Joseph Chaikin] 1978
True West 1980
Jackson's Dance [with Jacques Levy] 1980
Fool for Love 1983
A Lie of the Mind 1985
True Dylan 1987
States of Shock 1991
OTHER MAJOR WORKS
Me and My Brother [with Robert Frank] (screenplay) 1969
Zabriskie Point [with Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, Fred Graham, and Clare Peploe] (screenplay) 1970
Ringaleevio [with Murray Mednick] (screenplay) 1971
Hawk Moon (short stories, poems, and monologues) 1973
Rolling Thunder Logbook (journal) 1977
Jacaranda (text for dance and drama) 1979
Motel Chronicles (poems, prose, and monologues) 1982
Paris, Texas [with L. M. Kit Carson] (screenplay) 1984
Fool for Love [adapted from Shepard's play] (screenplay) 1985
The War in Heaven [with Joseph Chaikin] (radio play) 1985
Far North (screenplay) 1988
Letters and Texts 1972-1984 [with Joseph Chaikin] (non-fiction) 1989
Silent Tongue (screenplay) 1993
Overviews And General Studies
Michael Smith (review date 22 October 1964)
SOURCE: A review of Cowboys and The Rock Garden, in The Village Voice, Vol. X, No. 1, October 22, 1964, p. 13.
[Smith is a critic, stage director, and theater director, whose books include Eight Plays from Off-Off Broadway (1966) and More Plays from Off-Off Broadway (1972). A drama critic for the Village Voice from 1959 to 1974, Smith wrote the following review of Shepard's first produced plays, becoming an influential supporter of the author's early work.]
I know it sounds pretentious and unprepossessing—Theatre Genesis at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bouwerie,...
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The Tooth Of Crime
Robert Cushman (review date September 1972)
SOURCE: A review of The Tooth of Crime, in Plays and Players, Vol. 19, No. 228, September, 1972, pp. 49-50.
[The Tooth of Crime was first produced at London's Open Space Theatre in 1972. In the following review of that performance, Cushman criticizes the play as being a simplistic story of dueling musicians.]
I must begin, like everybody else, by quoting the programme note, though since it was prefaced by the injunction 'NB' I am perhaps only doing my duty: 'A good deal of this play has been written in an ";invented language"; derived from...
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Harold Clurman (review date 2 December 1978)
SOURCE: A review of Buried Child, in The Nation, New York, Vol. 227, No. 19, December 2, 1978, pp. 621-22.
[Buried Child was presented in New York City at the Theatre for the New City in November, 1978, and went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979. Clurman, a highly regarded director, educator, and author, and the drama critic for the Nation from 1953 to 1980, wrote the following review of Buried Child, praising the improvisational energy of the play and the ";quintessentially American"; nature of Shepard's work.]
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Fool For Love
Walter Kerr (review date 5 June 1983)
SOURCE: ";Where Has Sam Shepard Led His Audience?,"; in The New York Times, June 5, 1983, pp. 3, 16.
[Fool for Love was first presented at Magic Theatre in San Francisco in February 1983, with Shepard serving as the play's director, and this production later played the Circle Repertory Theatre in New York City. In the following review af one of the New York performances, Kerr criticizes Shepard as a ";cult dramatist"; whose work, despite its skilled presentation, addresses only a select audience and a limited range of topics.]
During the more than 20 years that...
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Cott, Jonathan. 'The Rolling Stone Interview: Sam Shepard."; Rolling Stone (18 December 1986): 166-68, 170, 172, 198, 200.
Interview that touches on various subjects, including Shepard's views on music and his play A Lie of the Mind.
Shepard, Sam. ";American Experimental Theatre: Then and Now."; Performing Arts Journal 11, No. 2 (Fall 1977): 13-14.
Shepard's reflections on experimental theater.
OVERVIEWS AND GENERAL STUDIES
Bachman, Charles R. ";Defusion of Menace in the Plays of Sam Shepard."; Modern Drama XIX, No. 4 (December 1976): 405-15....
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