October 13, 2015
Broadway news

Theater critic Hilton Als has written an article called "My Guy" for the New Yorker this week. He covers familiar territory on Sam but I appreciated the following points he makes:

For good or for ill, Sam Shepard is the most objectified male writer of his generation. People who have little interest in theatre have found themselves drawn to it, and to him, in part because of his looks, especially during the height of his fame as a screen actor.

Tall, slightly snaggletoothed, and eagle-eyed, Shepard always looked like America, or a movie version of America: one could easily imagine him playing Tom Joad or Abraham Lincoln. His Western drawl was an additional attraction.

Writing “Fool for Love,” during a time of emotional turmoil—Shepard’s marriage to [O-lan] Jones was dissolving, and he was falling for another actress, Jessica Lange, with whom he would be involved for almost thirty years—made him jumpy and suspicious of his work. "The play came out of falling in love," he said, in The Paris Review. "It’s such a dumbfounding experience. In one way you wouldn’t trade it for the world. In another way it’s absolute hell."

[Shepard admits] "I love the opening, in the sense that I couldn’t get enough of this thing between Eddie and May, I just wanted that to go on and on and on. But I knew that was impossible. . . . I had mixed feelings about it when I finished. Part of me looks at 'Fool for Love' and says, This is great, and part of me says, this is really corny. This is a quasirealistic melodrama. It’s still not satisfying; I don’t think the play really found itself."

And from Michael Giltz of Huffington Post:

I've spent my entire adult life watching the stock of playwright Sam Shepard fall. He was at his peak in the 1980s, with that iconic trade paperback of seven plays sporting his handsome mug on the cover.

That compilation was just a blip on the radar for Shepard. He starred in the landmark film "Days of Heaven" in 1978. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his play "Buried Child" in 1979. He received an Oscar nomination for his great work in 1983's "The Right Stuff", a masterpiece by any measure. He co-wrote the Palme d'Or winner "Paris, Texas" in 1984, the same year that collection of plays became a fixture in bookstores around the world. No wonder he made the cover of Newsweek in 1985.

The plays kept coming: about one every three years since Seven Plays was published 31 years ago. But cruelly for someone so acclaimed and clearly devoted to his craft, they haven't become part of the repertory yet, not really. "Buried Child" played Broadway for two months in 1996. A praised revival of arguably his best play "True West" had a five month run in 2000 and received three Tony nominations. And now this revival of "Fool For Love" with Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell. One play on Broadway in 1996, another in 2000 and now (finally) another in 2015. Shepard's new work has been seen at various venues Off Broadway to little success.

Shepard is a terrific actor, an admirable artist and devoted to theater. I want to be a fool for his work... I just wish I had more chances to judge his work where it belongs: on stage. Surely this showcase for four actors is proof he's worthy of more attention. It may reveal flaws but that's better than not being seen at all.

Overall, the reviews on this newest production were positive though the Village Voice criticized the casting of Nina Arianda - "As May, a bruised femme fatale chafing against the curse of a lifelong passion, Arianda rants and raves to little effect. Her wavering accent and showy tantrums don't express hard-bitten Western desperation so much as a drunken East Village Friday night."

Personally, I think Ms. Arianda's professionalism as a respectable actress needs to be polished. Oh, that trashy mouth in interviews!

October 10, 2015
"Fool for Love" Opens!

Theater critics are praising "Fool for Love" after it opened on Broadway on Thursday night. Jessica was in the audience and both she and her ex-partner stood around for photos at the after party though not together. The first photo shows Sam with director Daniel Aukin, the second with lead Nina Arianda and the third is Jessica posing with lead Sam Rockwell.

Okay, just ran across this one of both Sam & Jessica...

A little background on the play:

"Fool for Love" was first produced at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco in February, 1983, before moving to Off-Broadway at the Circle Repertory Theatre in May of that year. Sam himself directed these original productions, winning Obie Awards for his writing and directing as well as the award for best new American play.

Critics gave the play mixed reviews. It can be summarized as primarily a struggle, mostly of words, between two lovers, Eddie and May. By the end of the play, it is revealed that this is an incestuous relationship between half-siblings. Some of the dissenting critics found the dialogue between them, especially at the beginning of the play, to be cliched. Others believed that Sam was covering territory and themes that he had dealt with to better effect in plays such as "Buried Child" and "True West". Critics who praised the play found the character of May to be one of his first strong, autonomous women. Some critics also found the device of the Old Man, a ghostlike presence on stage, to be very effective.

Most critics agreed that with this new play, Sam continued his exploration of the mythic American West. As Frank Rich wrote in the New York Times,  "'Fool for Love' is a western for our time. We watch a pair of figurative gunslingers fight to the finish, not with bullets, but with piercing words that give ballast to the weight of a nation's buried dreams."

October 3, 2015
Knopf Birthday Party

Hundreds of guests filled Astor Hall at the New York Public Library on Thursday evening to celebrate Alfred A. Knopf’s centennial anniversary. Inside the majestic hall, famous folks from the literary world chatted, sipped wine and cocktails and nibbled a variety of appetizers in honor of Knopf’s 100th birthday. Among the many guests were our playwright, his pal Patti Smith, Michael Ondaatje, Toni Morrison, Judy Blume, Jay McInerney and Charlie Rose.

Sam admits he’s never read Patti Smith’s memoir "Just Kids" but has read her latest book, "M Train." It seems he's working on his own memoir even though he said he would never write one. Plus he's supposedly working on another screenplay.

September 28, 2015
Virginia Film Festival presents...

The plight of actress Meg Ryan's directorial debut is coming to light as the US release date for ITHACA disappears and shows up next year in Turkey (of all places!). My guess is that this movie will go directly to a DVD release in the states. Production, which took place outside of Richmond, Virginia, began in July 2014 and there has been little publicity from the start except for the fact that Tom Hanks joined in as executive producer and signed up for a cameo. The film is based on William Saroyan’s 1943 novel, The Human Comedy, a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy in 1942 working as a bike messenger who delivers messages that are often about the casualties of war. Ms. Ryan will also play Mrs. Macauley with Alex Neustaedter as her son Homer. Meg's real-life son Jack Quaid will take on the role of older son Marcus. Sam plays a man named Willie Grogan. The Virginia Film Festival, scheduled for November 5-8 in Charlottesville, will include a screening of the film with its director in attendance.

New publication coming next year

Bloomsbury Publishing has announced a new book called "The Late Work of Sam Shepard". Written by Shannon Blake Skelton, the book will be published on April 21, 2016. At 288 pages, it costs $92.99, a price perhaps only colleges and universities can afford. The description reads as follows: "Hailed by critics during the 1980s as the decade's 'Great American Playwright', Sam Shepard has since continued to produce work in a wide array of media including short prose, films, plays, performances and screenplays. Like Samuel Beckett and Tennessee Williams in their autumnal years, Shepard relentlessly presses the potentialities and possibilities of theatre. This is the first volume to consider Shepard's later work and career in detail and ranges across his work produced since the late 1980s. Shepard's directorial debut Far North (1988) served as the beginning of a new cycle of work. He returned to the stage with the politically engaged States of Shock (1991) which resembled neither his earlier plays nor his family cycle. With both Far North and States of Shock, Shepard signaled a transition into a phase in which he would experiment in form, subject and media for the next two decades.

Skelton's comprehensive study includes consideration of his work in films such as Hamlet (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and Brothers (2009); issues of authenticity in the film and screenplay Don't Come Knocking (2005) and the play Kicking a Dead Horse (2007); of memory and trauma in Simpatico, The Late Henry Moss and When the World was Green, and of masculine and conservative narratives in States of Shock and The God of Hell."

August 6, 2015
Broadway opening next month

As previously reported, FOOL FOR LOVE, will be coming to Broadway this fall. The summer production staged at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in MA last year was such a success that the Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre snatched it up. Directed by Daniel Aukin, the leads will again be played by Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda. Performances will begin on September 15 with opening night set for October 8. The story goes like this - "Holed up in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, two former lovers unpack the deep secrets and dark desires of their tangled relationship, passionately tearing each other apart. Beaten down by ill-fated love and a ruthless struggle for identity, can they ultimately live with, or without, each other?"

Premiering in March

I suspected that there was a problem with the latest film by Jeff Nichols  since there was still no publicity with a November release date approaching. Warner Bros. has announced it has moved  MIDNIGHT SPECIAL to next year with a March 18th premiere. The sci-fi film stars Michael Shannon as a father who goes on the run from religious extremists and local law enforcement in order to protect his young son (Jaeden Lieberher) and uncover the truth about the boy’s special powers. The ensemble also includes Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and Sam. The film marks the first studio project for Nichols, who directed from his own script.

July 28, 2015
Don't you love this!

Some folks happened to spot Jessica Lange and her man in Duluth yesterday and even captured a couple shots of them. Jessica was born in Cloquet, MN and the pair lived in Stillwater for many years as they raised their family. Jessica has long maintained a secluded cabin in the country, south of Duluth and she often visits it in the summer. She says, "There is no place I'd rather be. The cabin is in the deep woods on a hill overlooking a small lake."

June 9, 2015

Michael Corrigan of Atticus Review, a weekly online journal, wrote an article called "Cruising Paradise with Sam Shepard" on May 12, 2015. Mr. Corrigan seems to mostly meander through his musings on Shepard but includes the following about working with him at a 1980 playwrights' festival in Marin, California.

He writes, "When Sam Shepard appeared, a cinematic image of the moody but doomed farmer from 'Days of Heaven' came to mind. He seemed confident and shy sitting on the grass smoking an Old Gold cigarette, a bit reserved but polite... The paparazzi invaded the grounds on the last day of the festival, driven by a 'buzz' that an upcoming film called "Resurrection" would make Shepard a film star despite his crooked teeth. They treated him more like a celebrity than a playwright who had received a Pulitzer."

I have long been intrigued with the tug between his status as a playwright and Hollywood celebrity. In "The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard", editor Matthew Roudané writes, "It is difficult to separate the playwright from the filmmaker from the actor. Shepard is unswervingly male, unaffected, and bright, but never polished or super-educated. Financial considerations may have led him to accept certain parts in film, and there are subtle differences in his characterizations; but primarily he has been selected for and/or has agreed to participate in projects in which the Shepard persona remains intact. He is the lean, handsome man of mystery with crooked teeth who seems to flaunt his distrust of artificiality."

In the end, it seems impossible to disprove that once Sam stepped onto the big screen as a matinee idol, it may have resulted in Americans having a peculiar reverence for his stage plays, certainly among women. His international recognition has also possibly relied on the familiarity of his face. The debate will forever continue, but let's focus today on his second feature film, RESURRECTION, which I've just added to this Shepard archive.

The spiritual drama, written by Lewis John Carlino and directed by Daniel Petrie, was nominated for two Academy Awards; one for Ellen Burstyn as Best Actress in a Leading Role and another for Eva Le Gallienne for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Janet Maslin of the NY Times wrote, "The whole cast of Resurrection is outstanding. The playwright Sam  Shepard, who showed such promise in Days of Heaven, realizes that promise here. As Edna's hot-tempered lover, he brings a keen, nervous alertness to the role, and a presumptuousness that turns very appealing."

In his book, "Sam Shepard", journalist/critic Don Shewey describes Sam's role as Cal Carpenter as "a rowdy drunk in greasy jeans and a John Deere cap." He continues, "Shepard is wonderful in Resurrection, playing the punk side of the same James Dean-like persona that was so romantically doomed in Days of Heaven."

Here's an interesting tidbit: It was right after leaving the Texas set after a 13-week shoot and heading back home in his truck to his family in California that Sam learned some exciting news. On April 16, 1979, a telegram arrived at his house in Mill Valley from the president of Columbia University - YOU WERE AWARDED PULITZER DRAMA PRIZE TODAY FOR BURIED CHILD. CONGRATULATIONS. 

June 4, 2015
Stretch your noodle

I don't know if Emma Creedon has ever met Sam Shepard or has seen any of his plays, but her resume indicates she has written a few papers on his works and given some conference presentations, including "Sam Shepard's Bromance with Ireland". Ms. Creedon teaches a wide array of English and Drama courses at University College Dublin and NUI Galway. She has a book coming out next month called "Sam Shepard and the Aesthetics of Performance". Palgrave Macmillan will release it on July 23, 2015. Is it me or is there a disconnect with that book cover?

Here is the publisher's description - "This book argues that a consideration of Sam Shepard's plays in the context of visual and theoretical Surrealism significantly succours our understanding of his experimental approach. This study reveals how Shepard's plays rely on a veneer of realism that the playwright then actively exploits and rejects. In this mode, these plays indicate a sophisticated deconstruction of American realism and a manipulation of dramatic conventions; moreover, the incantatory functioning of his dramatic language reveals the influence of such Surrealists as Antonin Artaud. Indeed, this, along with his long admiration for and textual references to Samuel Beckett's plays, positions him as a dramatist working within the European tradition of Absurdism."

A whopping $359.99!

There might be certain props that movie fans would be willing to pay big bucks for; say, Dorothy's ruby slippers. But who wants Sam's prescription tortoise shell glasses from "August: Osage County"?

Blast from the Past...

May 24, 2015
"Buried Child" Revival headed to Off-Broadway

It has just been announced that Ed Harris and wife Amy Madigan will lead a revival of BURIED CHILD in an off-Broadway production at The Pershing Square Signature Center. Directed by Scott Elliott, previews will begin in February 2016 in The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre. The 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama will mark the play's first major production in New York in two decades. The play examines family and economic troubles through the lives of an Illinois farm couple.

Sissy & Sam

In an interview with Sissy Spacek for BLOODLINE, the Oscar-winning actress recounted her friendship with our playwright. It was her husband, Jack Fisk, who initially introduced her to Sam. Fisk was the production designer on Terry Malick's 1978 classic, "Days of Heaven". Over the years Sam and Sissy have worked together on several projects. In the Netflix series, they play a longtime married couple. Sissy says, "We have a 40-year-deep connection. That was an amazing thing to function with somebody you know playing husband and wife."

"Ithaca" to be released in December

Last July Meg Ryan made her directorial debut with ITHACA. Based on the book, "The Human Comedy", written by William Saroyan, "Ithaca" is a coming-of-age story set in the San Joaquin Valley in California during World War II. Besides Sam, the cast includes Meg, her son Jack Quaid and Tom Hanks. The IMDB has posted a December 31, 2015 release date.

Ms. Ryan is presently auctioning off a signed copy of the script to benefit a cancer charity. She hopes to raise cash for the Los Angeles branch of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Socity.

Photographed last month in NYC

These photos were taken of Sam on April 5, 2015 while he was walking on Bond Street in Soho. Always enamored by the press...


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