(Three acts) This Obie Award-winning play, a darkly comic exploration of the American family psyche, is an expository look at four family members of  the Tate family who live on a Californian farm. As the four characters shift into adolescence, adulthood and old age, they face the loss of their farm to debt and developers. Weston is the alcoholic father who has driven his family deep into debt. Ella is the mother who is seeking solace outside of her marriage and dreams of escape to exotic locations. Daughter Emma plans to become a mechanic, and pursues her 4-H projects and horseback fantasies with an adolescentís intensity. Son Wesley looks for a way to keep his family together while changing from a boy to a man. Various secondary characters are interspersed in the story, each trying to exploit the family and take over their land. The play examines the death of the American family as hardship clouds all interaction and any mutual understanding is lost.

Performance History

The first production was staged at the Royal Court in London on April 21, 1977. It was directed by Nancy Meckler.

The first American production was staged at the Public Theater during the New York Shakespeare Festival on March 2, 1978. It was directed by Robert Woodruff and starred James Gammon, Olympia Dukakis and Pamela Reed.


London Performance - Excerpts from Charles Marowitz, NY Times (05/15/77): 
Stylistically, the play is in a greater mess than the family. Most of them go through their motions naturalistically with the obligatory fantasy-riff intruding here and there, whenever the author feels the need to stretch his powers of expression. But these outside characters - the plain folk policeman, the finagling lawyer, the freaked-out owner of the local night club - waft in on a style peculiar to themselves with no reference to the ongoing, naturalistically pitched main situation. The result is a little like a fancy-dress party unexpectedly held at the local supermarket, with nobody quite able to explain how such a mixup could have occurred. Nancy Meckler's production at the Royal court is undercast and seems to have a blind trust in the instincts of individual actors who, with only two exceptions, let her down badly...

Ultimately, the final effect of the play is to remind us of the 1930's - particularly of the 30's of William Saroyan where, in plays like "The Hungerers" and "My Heart's in the Highlands", we were given a touching picture of the spiritual consequences of economic deprivation. But American's spiritual poverty has, if anything, increased in direct ratio to the country's affluence. Therefore, reservations notwithstanding, one has to respect the impulse behind Shepard's play. Mawkish, gauche and unfocused as it may be, it is about something that's really there. Wherever it winds up, that surely is the starting point of art.

New York Performance - Excerpts from Richard Eder, NY Times (03/03/78):
The central notion of Mr. Shepard's play, which opened last night at the Public theater, is hunger. Emma's protest is futile: for Mr. Shepard the commmon people - white collar, blue collar or whatever - is one great starving class. Its hungers, its ambitions, its wants are artificially stimulated; and what it strives for is phony food that doesn't bring satisfaction, only a new voracity. Ultimately, the message goes, American life is controlled by crooks and swindlers who delude the people and end up stripping them.  Mr. Shepard has worked out the message in images of considerable powers and in a style that oscillates between realism and savage fantasy. A violent humor predominates, slipping into plain violence. Unfortunately, much of the force hans in the air. It plays like a play that reads well, as if Mr. Shepard had failed to consider what would happen when his parable took physical form on the stage, and his images were played out by real actors performing in real time...

Essentially the characters are grotesque archetypes. They are often funny, and often the sage parody they personify does register. But that is the problem. Mr. Shepard has deliberately dehumanized them and drawn their recognizable natures into surrealistic extremes. They becomes messages... The director, Robert Woodruff, has allowed the action to dray excessivly, accentuating the play's tendency to self-indulgence.