A one-act play. Two buddies play what seems to be a game of cowboys and indians, re-enacting key episodes from Western mythology - episodes which lead to decay, stasis, and the apparent death of one of the characters.

Performance History
Theatre Genesis at St. Marks Church in the Bowery in New York in October 1964. Double billed with "The Rock Garden". Both plays directed by Ralph Cook.

In reviewing Shepard's initial offering, Village Voice critic Michael Smith wrote: "The plays are difficult to categorize, and I'm not sure it would be valuable to try.... Shepard is still feeling his way, working with an intuitive approach to language and dramatic structure and moving into an area between ritual and naturalism, where character transcends psychology, fantasy breaks down literalism, and the patterns of ordinariness have their own lives. His is a gestalt theater which evokes the existence behind behavior. Shepard clearly is aware of previous work in this mode, mostly by Europeans, but his voice is distinctly American and his own."




Cowboys (later revised as Cowboys #2) further reflects Shepard's freedom from family ties and his new life in New York. The action in a big-city environment where the central characters, Stu and Chet, play out cowboy scenarios. The piece follows no real story line but rather highlights the camaraderie of the buddies and their Wild West fiction making. Stu and Chet assume the cowboy roles of Mel and Clem and execute comic horseplay against the backdrop of an inhospitable urban expanse. As in its companion piece, Cowboys indicates the turbulent inner life of the young playwright and reveals the correspondence between Shepard's personal angst and his use of pointedly unconventional dramatic devices.  (source: Sam Shepard and the American Theatre)