A Tribute to Sam Shepard at Playreaders

By Henry Vermillion

When I first saw Sam Shepard’s play True West, I felt that this writer was a kindred soul; obviously he was from the Southwest, as I was. I was surprised to learn that, in fact, he was born in Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. His feeling for the empty spaces and the quirky people of the West and the heartland.—railroad men riding cowcatchers, men shooting tin cans with 22s, stoic or raging alcoholics, Mexican cowboys, strong women—came from his early days of growing up. He put these people into plays and stories: “Moving, drolly funny, spare, cleanly poetic, and always surprising,” as one critic wrote. He won a Pulitzer Prize for Buried Child. He also won widespread fame as an actor, including an Oscar nomination for the film The Right Stuff, and he played distinctive roles in many other films. In his 20s, he lived with writer/rocker Patti Smith; later he lived for 20 years with actress Jessica Lange, with whom he had two children.

Shepard died last month of Lou Gehrig’s disease, age 73. Playreader’s Theater will honor him with an evening of his short pieces and monologues on Wednesday and Thursday, September 6 and 7, at the usual venue at St Paul’s Church on Calle Cardo.

The evening will begin with short pieces by three other kindred spirits: Anton Chekhov, Samuel Beckett, and David Mamet.

In Shepard’s Just Space, a young woman tries to explain to her mother, by long distance phone, why she’s working as a waitress at the Happy Chef in South Dakota. In Opuestos, a husband tries to explain to his wife why he spends so much time across the river in Mexico—and who the three brown-skinned girls in the back of his pick-up are. In You I Have No Distance From, a woman tries to understand her feelings for her lover: “Every move you make feels like I’m traveling in your skin.”

Quintessentially American, spare, personal, these lean, condensed Shepard pieces reveal depths of longing, stoicism, and whole character in a line or two.

The evening offers an opportunity to know rarely seen small gems from five of the most respected modern writers for the theater.

The actors are Geoff Hargreaves, Lee Harris, Maggie Bunce, David Johansson, and Susan Varcoe. Direction is by Henry Vermillion, and lights and sound are by Dic Simandl. Admission is only 20 pesos; the doors open at 7pm, and the show begins at 7:30pm (or earlier, if the house is full).

Theater

“Tribute to Sam Shepard”

Wed and Thu, Sep 6 and 7, 7:30pm

St Paul’s Church

Cardo 6

20 pesos

 

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