A one-act play with three scenes. A young man is depicted in a number of minimalistic, disjunctive actions involving a sister, mother, and father. Their noncommunicative exchanges indicate the household's stifling environment. In the first scene, a boy and girl and their father sit wordlessly at a table until the girl spills a glass of milk. In the second, the boy fetches his mother glasses of water while she chatters on about the weather. In the third, the boy and his father sit around in their underwear. When the father expounds on the topic of rock gardens, the young man falls out of his chair three times and finally responds with an arrestingly graphic description of his sexual experiences. After five minutes, the play ends with the father falling out of his chair.

Performance History
Theatre Genesis at St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery in New York on October 16, 1964. Double billed with "Cowboys". 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."


Described by Shepard as a play about "leaving my Mom and Dad", "The Rock Garden" functions as an aesthetic and personal declaration of independence; the shock effect of the closing passage moreover reveals the writer's willingness to shatter convention, to explore libidonal play, and to give expression to the irregular, the wayward, even the obscene. (Source: Shepard and the American Theatre)

A New York Herald Tribune theatre critic was so incensed by the obscene language that Michael Allen, the rector at St. Mark's Church gave the following explanation - "I believe this whole generation of young people is saying to us in effect, 'Look, you use beautiful words and do ugly things; we'll take ugly words and make beauty out of them.' Eventually  the play's final scene was included in British drama critic Kenneth Tynan's "Oh, Calcutta", an avant-garde musical, which consisted of sketches on sex-related topics.

Mad Dog Blues & Other Plays - NY: Winter House: 1972
The Unseen Hand & Other Plays - Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill: 1972.
Fifteen One-act Plays, Vintage, 2012