(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In this portrait of the artist exploited by big business (a recurrent theme with Shepard, who nevertheless found a commercial outlet for his talents quite early in his career), the artist is a dreamer, and his dreams are his art. The hero, Cody, has been kidnapped by thugs, who cull race winners from his dreams, moving him from place to place. As in all Shepard’s two-act plays, the two acts bear likenesses to each other that underscore their differences. In act 1, it is horse racing that Cody dreams about, but in act 2, he has switched to dog racing. Once the thugs understand the switch, they continue to let the dreamer do his work. Cody’s brothers rescue him from the Doctor (a sinister figure representing cold-blooded murder) in a violent ending, which unfortunately seems almost tacked onto the mood of the rest of the piece.

A displacement from one’s locale, another standard Shepard theme, is what makes the dreams so vivid and so destructive. When Cody is removed from his (Western) homeland, he suffers. Shepard is saying that the artist has been displaced from his “geography,” in this case the American West, where much of Shepard’s own youth was spent. From the play’s opening, Cody has been dreaming of the past rather than the present (the opening act is called “The Slump”). The thugs will be in trouble with their boss, Fingers, if Cody (“Mr. Artistic here”) does not come up with some winners soon. The whole operation has fallen on hard times since Cody’s failures; they have gone from fancy hotels to this cheap motel, where even the wallpaper goes against...

(The entire section is 651 words.)