SAM SHEPHERD: The Life and Work of an American Dreamer by Ellen Oumano

SAM SHEPHERD: The Life and Work of an American Dreamer

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As with one of Shepherd's plays, you don't know that much more about this elusive ""Kafka trapped in Jimmy Stewart's body"" after having read Sam Shepherd than you did before you experienced it. Though in Oumano's case, you do get a warm bath of theater metaphysics and alchemical interpretation. The biographical facts are clear enough, if not seen with any great depth or detail; as with Oumano's interpretations, you never feel she's solidily anchored you anywhere concrete with Shepherd, The main figure in Shepherd's California youth is his renegade alcoholic father, who abandoned the family but reappears in varied guises in Shepherd's plays. Eventually living alone in the desert, he died in 1983, struck by a car while drunk. Shepherd himself looks at last to be heading for a major resolution of the father figure in his plays, and of turning from his man-man themes to man-woman conceits. In 1964, the emerging playwright-poet-actor-screenwriter-musician first appeared on Manhattan's Lower East Side and began putting on one-act plays at Theatre Genesis while waiting tables at the Village Gate. These off-off-Broadway plays--which were first-draft fingerpaintings drawn from his unconscious and never revised--were received with shock and some pleasure by the local denizens, who recognized in them something out of their own lives. The plays, said Shepherd, were composed according to Jack Kerouac's scat dictum for wordbopping. They neither hung together very well nor had endings, but they got a terrific press from the Village Voice, which didn't care that the new emperor had no clothes on. In fact, it was not until 15 years later, with his long play True West, revised 13 times, that Shepherd began to write plays that didn't embarrass him. Oumano also covers his recent film career and romance with Jessica Lange but again not with any richness of detail--their various ranches and retreats remain at a vague distance. Perhaps this is the light critical biography that Shepherd deserves at this point, since his strongest work appears to lie in the immediate future.

Pub Date: March 5th, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's