Category Archives: Sam Shepard

Photographica: Late Afternoon and into the Past

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

A late winter afternoon–after a stretch of rain, the air still thick. Winter in the Pacific Northwest often limits you to shooting detail, given the long overcast stretches. But, when it clears, it gives you this full, rich light and color more akin to the semi-tropics, plus long shadows. Maybe the moisture content in the air; it somehow bends the light.

Here we have the golden hour plus: the warm light tinged with winter blues. The photo’s seem some post-production work, mostly to render it the way I saw it. Or at least how I remembered it. There’s no telling how far that can stray. Memory’s it’s own kind of filter.

The site–the Modish Building in downtown Portland–holds a special meaning for me. My first play–Controlled Burn–was produced on the fourth floor, in a sort of underground art gallery, with the artists squatting on site…not us, we came in as guests. Very punk, man! Kind of. They did throw some great parties. They also had limited gear available. The sound system was fantastic, and there must have been 50 cues, but our lights consisted of slide projectors and flashlights with colored gels over the lenses (and a silver plastic balloon that served to create a very cool watery effect). We took our set up in a rickety industrial elevator than ran so slow that you could reach out and touch the wall as it passed. We called if the David Lynch Memorial Elevator. We had to bring audiences up to the fourth floor in batches of ten. Luckily, the fire inspector never visited us.

With time, you learn. Back then, I had no idea. I remember Kyle Evans (who helped found Pavement Productions) and I attended PATA auditions when looking for actors. We knew nobody in the theatre community, nobody knew us, but they treated us as equals, and we ended up working with some very cool people like Sherilyn Lawson, Marty Ryan, and Catherine Egan (as a shamanistic dancer).

That’ll be 25 years ago this coming September. First play. Birth of Pavement Productions (I certainly had no idea that would last for 18 years). And my first review–the Oregonian compared me to a young Sam Shepard. They also said the play was kind of a mess–really, it was more performance art–and dubbed it “Uncontrolled Burn.” And thus the pattern: the critic give, and critic taketh away. Still, they couldn’t have made me happier unless they’d compared me to Beckett or Ionesco.

Funny that the piece really was a series of interconnected monologues, and I’m currently playing with a series of interconnected narrative poems–which could be performed as a series of monologues. I don’t know whether that means the circle comes round or I just have a limited number of ideas.

(Shot with a Canon 70D, 18-55mm zoom lens, processed in Adobe Lightroom.)

P.S.: This marks my blog’s 500th post.


Closing in on the Target


As I announced a couple days ago, Splattworks, over the next few weeks, will be serializing my drama Bombardment in bite-sized installments. It’s not an entirely new idea: Dickens serialized many of his novels before publishing them as the books we know today. Technology now allows me to do the same—amazingly—all around the world. Because I know you’re out there, in L.A. and Savannah and Hong Kong and Jordan and Brisbane and Berlin and….

Why this play now? The last decade has been so turbulent, terrible, and sometimes downright bizarre, that it’s come to feel like one, long, unbroken disaster, where one never knows when or where the next airstrike’s coming in. Every day makes history; some days are just bigger and more unsettling than others. Lately, they all have been.

It also feels like we’re coming up on one of those decisive moments, where we can pull up at the last minute or disappear into darkness, where the disparity between rich and poor has grown so great that society’s seams are splintering. Not just in the United States, where I live, but everywhere. The planet itself seems to be shaking and baking itself to pieces. The future, to me, has never felt so unknowable. The times, it seems, have caught up with Bombardment. So I hope readers find something in the piece that they can keep for themselves, even if it’s just an image or a line here and there.

To me, the play still seems a wild child. With time and experience, I can see a younger writer trying to find his way. Like a musician coming to competence, he has to try a little bit of everything and work through his influences. So there’s some Beckett here, along with some Ionesco and Albee, a touch of Brecht, and whole hell of a lot of Shepard, particularly in those epic monologues. I was still learning to let characters talk to each other.

If nothing else, I hope Bombardment’s a diverting read. I’m just happy to take a breath and let it off the reins. Maybe something interesting will happen. Or maybe it’ll just run over the top of the hill, and never be seen again. Putting it out there feels a little…edgy. Exciting. Kind of like an opening night. And that’s what theatre…and all art…should be about.

One more bit of business, and then the play should begin on Saturday. Thanks.

[To be continued]


Reasons to be a Playwright, #457

We all get bad reviews. Sometimes we get good reviews (you get to keep those forever). But once in awhile, you get stupid, shitbird reviews from stupid, shitbird reviewers who, basically, couldn’t find their own balls in the dark without a flashlight. It’s weirdly heartening to know playgods such as Sam Shepard aren’t immune. I include the review of Shepard’s “Curse of the Starving Class” in total, just for the peek-through-the-fingers at the car crash value.

Dear Daily Californian, please fire this lame fucker.

Yours,

Steve

‘Starving Class’ Suffers From Lackluster Material
By Nick Moore

Few word pairings carry potential for horror like “community theater.” They can connote offensively bad productions, fiascos on an epic scale. Take “Revolutionary Road,” in which Richard Yates uses a failed community theater production to frame over 300 pages of violent marital unhappiness.

But typically, we associate community theater with modest mess-ups and comical delights derived from watching others attempt to produce something appealing despite the disadvantages of low budgets and inexperience.

“Curse of the Starving Class,” the new Actors Ensemble of Berkeley production, did have some of those features. As the audience took its seats, an unidentified man clambered awkwardly onto the stage, delivering a disjointed monologue and brandishing a t-shirt like a bullfighter’s muleta. For a moment it seemed like the play was beginning, but a few seconds clarified that he was actually only trying to sell Live Oak Theater t-shirts.

The irony here was that the production’s biggest flaw laid not in a cheap set or amateurish acting (this production had neither), but in Sam Shepard’s truly terrible script. Set somewhere in relatively rural California in the 1970s, it tells the story of a family that, justifiably it seems, believes it is cursed. Not in the paranormal sense, but in the impoverished, dysfunctional, father-is-a-drunk-who-can’t-hold-down-a-job sense.

The father, Weston (Andy Shapiro), doesn’t appear until the end of the first act, when he stumbles in through the gaping hole left by the missing front door, which he had previously destroyed in a drunken rage. He proceeds to tell his son Wesley (Thomas Arndt) about his plans to sell their shabby house and large lot, unaware that his wife is attempting to pull off the same scheme.

The father-son relationship is strained. Wesley’s unconsciously expressive face is more telling then anything he says or does, and recalls the angsty protagonist from “Dazed and Confused.” The father, who behaves more like a schizophrenic than a drunk, casts a fearful shadow even when he’s offstage.

Though the pair is solid, some poorly written sequences simply can’t be resuscitated. In one scene, the father gravely but loudly laments the poison that infects him, and warns his son that someday this poison will affect him too. The poison metaphor is really just embarrassing, especially considering the straight-faced delivery. If Shepard was aiming for satire, he’s too obvious.

One of Shepard’s more redeeming characters is the daughter (Sionne Tollefsrud), a witty counterpoint to her stubborn brother. Tollefsrud, whose age is frustratingly ambiguous, masters the posture of a perpetually exasperated tween.

The script’s freely flying barbs necessitate the constant preservation of these aggressive poses. During the confrontation between the father and his equally conniving wife, each uses shouting and gestures as tools of intimidation, though neither succeeds. The scene devolves into an animated argument over property rights, which is amusing but also bemusing, because neither side seems to have even a basic knowledge of the relevant laws. It’s evocative of a Coen brothers movie, with everyone vehemently invested in his or her plan without actually having any idea what they’re doing.

Despite the tension, an inexplicable force keeps this dysfunctional family together. Trying to pinpoint it is difficult, but one of the play’s better aspects is this mystery. The actors themselves seem uncertain, as though discovering the characters for themselves. Without slick production, the genuine effort of trying to act-especially with dialogue as overly exaggerated as Shepard’s-really comes across. Enjoying the show takes effort, specifically the lowering of standards, but this collaborative effort seems implied in the word community.


Time Waits for No One, Not on My Side


Where’s the “off” button on this thing, anyway?

Sorry it’s been so long between postings, but, some time during early October, life accidentally bumped the hyperdrive switch, and I’ve been violently sucked into an uber-accelerated time vortex, and it’s been all I can do just to clutch the safety bar while my rattling little cart has climbed, dived, slid, and shuddered into the curves.

Hyperbole? Well, yes. But it has been busy. In addition to working 50+ hour weeks at my day job as a mild-mannered technical editor, I finished the working draft of Immaterial Matters–a new full-length drama I’ve very pleased with.

I’m helping Playwrights West, a new Portland theatre company, get off the ground (including building and launching a last-minute Web site to serve as a placeholder until we can build a better site).

I shot, framed, and hung a photo project for a production of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love and served on a public panel discussing Sam’s work.

I reconnected with one of my oldest friends (then promptly dropped the ball when the schedule overwhelmed me–sorry, Scott), and I got together with Jack Boulware, a college/journalist buddy, in town to promote his terrific new book Gimme’ Someting Better (and more to come on that).

Deb and I managed to go see Bob Dylan and B.B. King, both beyond wonderful but Tuesday-night concerts which left me wasted the rest of the week.

I shot a portrait of a charming transvestite for Pulp Diction, a January new works reading series and part of Portland’s Fertile Ground New Works Festival, which includes my newish full-length play The Rewrite Man–which, of course, I had to rewrite.

I’ve made huge leaps forward with my guitar playing (I think), bought Deb a new Ibanez acoustic as an anniversary present (we’ve been jamming together, which has been wonderful), bought and broke in a new Vox amp (because Deb’s new guitar has an electronic pick-up, and I happily returned the great Roland amp she’d been loaning me), and, this week, completely lost my mind and bought an Epiphone Sheraton II semi-hollow body electric (more on that to come as well).

Plus the car blew up and needed major repairs, we had a small dinner party for my yearly winter dish, Beef Bourguignon, and, after writing three full-length plays in two years, I decided to take a break from playwriting…to write a non-fiction book (and stil more on that down the road, naturally). In my spare time, I managed to begin writing a song. Because, you know, I didn’t have enough to do.

Finally, three vetebras in my neck went out (stress, perhaps?), and I’ve pretty much been in constant pain for weeks, but I’ve been so busy that I couldn’t get to my doctor until this past week. (Getting better, thanks.)

Things, pleasantly, look to slow down in a little while–right after the PR I have to do for Playwrights West (also part of Fertile Ground), rehearsals for The Rewrite Man (and possible rewrite), two grants I should hear yea or nay on this month, a new round of play submissions, some work as a regional Dramatists Guild representative, photos I owe some friends, revamps of Playwrights West’s and my own Web sites, research on the new writing project, and then this upcoming “Christmas” event…whatever that is. Plus another couple play rewrites with looming deadlines.

So my apologies for the posts I haven’t written, phone calls and e-mails I haven’t returned, or any other balls I’ve managed to drop. I’ve been lucky to hang on to the pair I was issued years ago.

At some point, the fatigue morphs from agony to giddiness. At least that’s what they tell me: I’m still waiting.

In short, if I owe any of you stuff–scripts, pictures, calls, or new blog posts–please bear with me. I’ll get to it right after…. Well, it’s on my mind, okay?

My to-do list includes: “update to-do list.”

S


Happy 66th, Sam


What is it with people named Shepherd?


However you spell it. There’s Sam. There’s Alan. And now I’ve just discovered Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the most exciting guitarist I’ve heard in years. Lots of people discovered him before me, of course, but, man, the dude’s playing has soul. James Brown said so, and, hell, that’s the law.

Anyway, check him out….

Kenny Wayne Shepherd


It’s just so…Sam

So Sam Shepard…our Sam Shepard…got himself busted for DUI the other night (you would think playwrights should be afforded special dispensation…Dramatists Guild, let’s get cracking); but the details of the story are…well….

It’s like this.

So Sam, see, he was headed back home to Kentucky. Leaving Minnesota. Minneapolis. And, you know, that’s a drive. So he stops off in Bloomington. There’s this bar there he knows, Fat Jack’s, and maybe, who knows, he runs into somebody who knows horses or something. Anyway, it’s around 2:00 AM, so we can pretty much assume he rode ‘er out to closing. And he’s driving along, some place called Normal, Illinois. No really. And it’s like a 30 mph zone, big deal, 2:00 in the morning, and they pop him for going 46. I mean, shit. Who wouldn’t be pushing it a little to get the hell out of Normal?

So they do the Breathalyzer, the whole thing, and it says double the legal. But we’re talking Sam Shepard here, so, you know, the legal’s kind of under the baseline, if you know what I’m sayin’. What the hell. He says he’s sorry, posts bond, and disappears into the wilds of Kentucky. Thank you very much.

It’s not good. No, it’s not good at all. But still. You know…fuck Normal.