Playbills/Posters


 
 
 
 
Synopsis

The play centers on Sally, who lives with her mysterious family in a cavernous home overlooking Los Angeles. When a visitor arrives, Sally's dark secrets - and the secrets of those around her - threaten to come to light.

Characters:
MABLE (Lois Smith) - Female, 70+. Tough, smart and unyielding. Intimidating. Sally and Lucy’s mother. Uses a wheelchair.
SALLY (Julianne Nicholson) - Female, 25-40. A deep complex soul. Strong sexuality.
LUCY (Jenny Bacon) - Female, 30-45. A natural caretaker starting to resent her role. Sally's older sister.
ELIZABETH (Betty Gilpin) - Female, 25-35. Beautiful, quiet, mysterious, with an edge of pain. Mable’s nurse.
ROSCOE (Gary Cole) - Male, 50-65. An older guy with some sand and grit. Teaches literature.

The production is directed by Daniel Aukin with James Houghton as artistic director. Rehearsals began July 10, 2012

 
Sam Shepard discusses his play -  Published June 2012 in GQ

GQ: This is the play Heartless that you're working on right now?
Sam Shepard: Right. This is the third draft, and I've pretty much got the first act done, probably a quarter of the second act done, and then I'm trying to rewrite much of the second act. So it's sort of emergency writing, but I've been in that situation before.

GQ: Wasn't there a time in your life that you didn't do any rewriting?
Sam Shepard: Yes, when I was young and dumb, you know. Nineteen or twenty or something like that. I thought rewriting was against the law.

GQ: So how has your process changed since then?
Sam Shepard: Well, it changed radically. You know, I'm still very much a believer in the spontaneity of certain kinds of writing. But then you have to eventually, when you're writing a long play, make adjustments along the way, all kinds of adjustments. So most of those early plays, the very early plays were very short one-act plays, so they were kind of bursts of energy more than anything.

GQ: From the casting notices, it looks like this play has some great parts for women.
Sam Shepard: Yeah. There's four females and one male, which is kind of unusual. I don't think I've ever written anything like it. Lois Smith has already committed. She's been the first actress to commit, which I'm just thrilled to have her. She did my play Buried Child on Broadway years ago, and I actually think she's best known for Five Easy Pieces, where she played Jack Nicholson's sister.

You can watch a video at this link showing artistic director James Houghton discussing Sam's newest play.

 
Rehearsal Photos


 
Performance History

Signature Theatre at the Irene Diamond Stage. Previews began August 7. Opening night was August 27 running through  September 30, 2012

 
Performance Photos - Signature Theatre Company
 
Reviews

Linda Winer, Newsday: 
"This is not a play for people who need answers more than questions. And in early heavy-handed scenes, Aukin lets Shepard's dry, ironic, stark dialogue drag into the self-conscious.
But as the surprising plot unfolds and Smith lets loose into one of her multileveled arias of contempt and sorrow, we feel the playwright moving into gripping new territory. Just as the professor wants to go somewhere without a name, Shepard, bless him, keeps us searching." Read full review.

Dan Hallahan, The L Magazine:
"'Heartless' is the sort of late-career work that the most fervent admirers of a playwright might find excuses for. But all its felicities of acting and dialogue can't make up for its hoary themes."  Read full review.

Carol Rocamora, Broad Street Review:
"Can it be that this 69-year-old playwright’s personal demons are still pursuing him? Can the writer who suffered from a rootless childhood and a sad series of broken family relationships be peering, like Mabel, crippled from a fall,  into the abyss of age? “I’m not doing this [playwriting] to vent demons,” Shepard wrote in the program notes. “I want to shake hands with them.” In the case of Heartless, it’s more a lethal embrace than a handshake."  Read full review.

Terence Diamond, Edge Boston:
"Stylistically, 'Heartless' characters seem stranded somewhere between abstraction and realism. Discordant elements of set, characters and even costume (designed by Kay Voyce) pose significant obstacles to achieving a coherent dramatic vision. As symbols, the babbling crone, the repressed spinster, old West references and the open road, chaste lovers, the aging patriarch inhabit the stage but don’t alchemize."   Read full review.

Hilton Als, The New Yorker:
"Is 'Heartless' ultimately about role-playing, Shepard's attempt to imagine what would happen if women donned stereotypically male attitudes about sex and intimacy, until they merged with the cowboys of his mind?"  Read review.

David Finkle, Theater Mania:
"...After close to two hours of watching these folks' various manifestations, their plights have not only ceased to be involving, but have become more than mildly irritating... Unfortunately, because the work's intentions are otherwise so obscure, there's no way to judge the effectiveness of Daniel Aukin's direction or the ensemble's acting. It can be said, though, that in playing people ripe for being committed, the five actors all bring commendable commitment to the seemingly plotless and pointless 'Heartless.'"  Read full review.

Jonathan Mandell, The Faster Times:
"Never one to emphasize clarity, Shepard made up for it in his most exciting plays by the tension and the catharsis. For my taste, there is not enough narrative tension, and even less catharsis, in “Heartless” to make up for its lack of coherence."  Read full review.

Tony Zinman, Philadelphia Inquirer:
"Shepard’s  new play, 'Heartless', in world premiere at Signature Theatre in New York, demonstrates again that the mystery will not end.  Your tolerance for unsolved - unsolvable - mystery will be the gauge of how much you like this play. Being a card-carrying Shepard fan, I was deeply intrigued and moved, but I spoke to people (and overheard others) who were deeply irked."  Read full review.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today:
"These characters fit into Shepard's pantheon of damaged, dysfunctional people linked by blood and desperation, but there is something particularly bleak and detached about their circumstances. The text and playbill quote Ionesco, and there are clear shades of Beckett, a key influence on Shepard, in the way these folks get nowhere... What 'Heartless' reinforces is that we're all lost, in various stages of decay and disrepair."  Read full review.

David Cote, Time Out:
"'Heartless' feels like Shepard’s attempt to write an Edward Albee drama. It features a waspish but articulate matriarch and existential head games played on a hapless houseguest. The result, despite an impressive cast and Daniel Aukin’s evocative direction, is a piece lacking most major organs, not just the blood-pumping one...  'Heartless' is a mysterious play speckled with clues, but one has little desire to put them together or look for a solution. Instead, the stream-of-consciousness monologues and absurdist plot twists feel like cryptic vamping for their own sake. Perhaps Shepard wanted to write about a middle-aged man who, like Roscoe, left his wife. Or a symbolist tone poem about people who are scarred and paralyzed, within and without. Or an allegory about the dying West. Let’s just say that he succeeds on all counts; but that doesn’t make this wan exercise in lyrical weirdness any more compelling.  Read full review.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times:
"Mr. Shepard has said all this before, and with more dramatic urgency and clarity. Using an abstract set for 'Heartless' was a mistake, I think. It divorces metaphor from life and isolates characters from one another. They seem to exist here mostly in relation to their symbolic status... Ms. Nicholson and Mr. Cole work in an earnest, naturalistic vein that, perversely, makes their characters feel less credible. Ms. Gilpin does a good silent scream and generally makes the best of a part that isn’t really there. But as the miserable Lucy, who dips freely into Mom’s medicines, Ms. Bacon cuts loose to delightful effect... While Mable never leaves her wheelchair, that doesn’t mean that Ms. Smith is a static presence. On the contrary, as a true mother should, she endows this play with what genuine life force it has, her face ablaze with a Gorgon’s mythic power."  Read full review.

Michael Somers, New Jersey Newsroom:
"W
hatever phantom themes the distinguished author of “A Lie of the Mind” and “Fool for Love” seeks to illuminate through this desultory drama, escapes me entirely. Like you, I will be reading other reviews in the hope of enlightenment. The drama’s various harangues, enigmatic exchanges, lingering pauses and intermittent screams are imbued with considerable gravity by the actors. Designer Eugene Lee handsomely provides a dark, stark setting, which is lit for mystery by Tyler Micoleau. Signature Theatre nearly always gives its shows an effective realization and does so again in the case of this strangely empty work."  Read full review.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg.com:
"Director Daniel Aukin leaves the dizzying changes in plot to the author while keeping his fine company in reality check. It unfolds naturalistically. The play is full of silences that have the force of poetry. That makes sense for a playwright who swash-buckled through youth with rock ’n’ roll ferocity and now embraces mortality with something like remorse."  Read full review.

Michael Fiengold, Village Voice:
"The wonder and charm of 'Heartless' don't come from its trickery, but from the very real passion behind it and poetry within it. In Daniel Aukin's lucid, somewhat dry production, the poetic feeling is vested most fully in Smith, who deploys it with fierce, snappish authority, and in Nicholson's truly heart-rending shifts from sharp-edged to vulnerable. And for unspoken poetry, Tyler Micoleau's subtly nuanced lights take the prize." 
Read full review.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News:
"Although watching Sam Shepard’s hazy new meditation on life and death and what’s in-between isn’t abysmal, it does become tedious.  But it also occasionally surges with offbeat humor. That’s not nothing, but not enough to make for a satisfying night... Shepard’s theater has its own rhythms and music — underscored by Eugene Lee’s abstract set. Director Daniel Aukin’s cast is all over the map — tinny and flat to too declamatory.  At their best, mysteries in Shepard plays pull us in. And even one great compelling performance can grab and hold us tight. As is, “Heartless” lacks all that; it just drifts — like smog."  Read full review.

Jeri Scott, Review Off Broadway:
"Sam Shepard’s new play, 'Heartless', at the Pershing Square Signature Theater Center is definitely not going to be everyone’s taste. However, if you enjoy slightly surrealist black comedy, you could hardly do better. There isn’t much of a plot, besides the exploration of family ties in a dysfunctional family...  Directed by Daniel Aukin, 'Heartless' takes a while to settle into a rhythm – which is a function of the story. If you can accept the artificial and unrealistic situations, Heartless is a crazy fun ride. But be warned, many people don't enjoy that experience."  Read full review.

Frank Scheck, NY Post:
"As with so many of Shepard’s works, what it all means is anybody’s guess. But here the mysteries seem shapeless, the conflicts arbitrary. And while the dialogue displays traces of his trademark sardonic humor, the proceedings are mostly dreary and uninvolving. Daniel Aukin’s subdued direction makes the two-hour play seem longer than it is... With more pondering, the mysteries of 'Heartless' may eventually come into focus. Or, as Gertrude Stein once observed, maybe there’s simply no there there."  Read full review.

Wilborn Hampton, Huffington Post:
The heart has always been a vital organ in the plays of Sam Shepard, and never more so than in Heartless, a poetic, enigmatic and often humorous exploration of the human failure to connect with one another that is the playwright's most inspired and imaginative work in years. It is being staged with mostly excellent results at the new Signature Theater complex."  Read full review.

Patrick Maley, Stage Magazine:
"Featuring a contentious family, torrid love, mysterious secrets, imposing guilt, a lust for the frontier of the open road, and a staunch refusal to moor itself to a realist grounding, all dripping with darkly comic lyric poetry, 'Heartless' features all that intrigues and mystifies us about Shepard’s work. It is an American master doing what he does best."  Read full review.

Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly:
"There are skeletons in the closet, under the bed, and behind the couch in 'Heartless', Sam Shepard's ethereal and discomfiting new play set in a Los Angeles house haunted by five lost souls... There's something dark and alluring about the tapestry Shepard weaves, but it's a bit hard to tell what it is we're supposed to be looking at."  Read full review.

Erik Haagensen, Backstage:
"I’m honestly not sure what Sam Shepard is up to with 'Heartless,' his new play at Signature Theatre. It is visually arresting, beautifully directed by Daniel Aukin, and well-acted by a company of five... 'Heartless,' however, lacks a sufficiently rigorous internal logic that would allow Shepard to communicate his ideas and emotions in a way that makes them palpable... It’s clear that Signature Theatre has given much loving attention to 'Heartless.' Nevertheless, despite containing some striking set pieces, this airless symbolic drama fails to accrete in a persuasive way."   Read full review.

Brendan Lemon, The Financial Times:
"Stronger in theme than in narrative, 'Heartless' features an intrepid band of actors. Against the expanse of Eugene Lee’s set – a foreground table, two beds, two palm trees – the artists commit utterly to their characterisations. Sometimes a little too intently: wheeled in by the nurse, Mable, as a character, already edges a bit far into Tennessee Williams territory, and Lois Smith’s biting declamation of her lines kept my sympathy at bay. But Smith is an actor of so many colours that no character as written is going to defeat her."   Read full review.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety:
"Despite a skirmish in which the sisters try to stop Roscoe from leaving, "Heartless" lacks a dramatic showdown and suffers for it. What the play does have in spades, however, is the scribe's distinctive lyrical voice... The only drawback is that these powerful words are delivered mostly in monologues, and only rarely in dialogues engaging multiple characters."
 Read full review.

Jeri Brown, Vulture:
"The headless black-comedy "Heartless" is not Sam Shepard's best play. It is not his ninth-best play. You could call it a return to form, and its hell-for-leather riffing does resemble Shepard’s early work, his grand junk-collage 'Tooth of Crime' jazz-odysseys. But you could also say, less charitably, that "Heartless" feels like a young man's play reworked, overworked, and worked-over by a now-much-older man. From its thudding title on down, the show feels like the pomo playwright’s version of a curmudgeonly 'dad-joke': I detected, beneath the Shepard-y obscurantism, a lot of metaphysical head-shaking and beard-stroking and general incomprehension when it comes to subjects like Women and Youth and the New Exhibitionism. What's up with all the Twattling and Facetubing, anyway?"  Read full review.

 
Publications
 
 
Notes:

Auditions were held on April 12, 2012