2 minute read

Sam Shepard, born Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr Biography

(1943– ), born Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr, Cowboys, Chicago, Icarus's Mother, Red Cross

American dramatist, born in Illinois. Shepard is a prolific and hugely successful playwright as well as film actor, screenwriter, and film director. His first play, Cowboys (1964), was followed by a stream of plays most of which were produced in New York in off-Broadway theatres. Widely regarded as the leading American avant-garde playwright of the late twentieth century, Shepard's work has inspired some antagonism from critics who do not share his preoccupation with popular culture, and from feminist critics who regard his treatment of women in his plays as characteristic of the worse excesses of male authority and power. Shepard's work falls into two phases. Until the mid-1970s his work was experimental in form, explorations in the possibility of nonnaturalistic theatre, influenced by the work of Joseph Chaikin in the Open Theatre; he has also acknowledged the influence of Samuel Beckett and Peter Handke. His early plays are highly charged with imagistic vocabulary derived from rock music, Hollywood, particularly the Western movie, television, the drug scene, and the politics of revolt. Among these are Chicago (1965), Icarus's Mother (1965), Red Cross (1966), La Turista (1967), Forensic and the Navigators (1967), Operation Sidewinder (1970), The Tooth of the Crime (1972), and Action (1974). From The Curse of the Starving Class (1977) Shepard's plays have a more conventional shape, reflecting his desire for a sparer theatrical idiom closer to O'Neill's realism. Their major focus is that of family relations, even though these remain essentially conflictual and destructive. The language of these plays, if frequently abrasive in the idiomatic use of obscenity, is equally poetic in the power to evoke the gravity of human despair and isolation. Among the later plays are Buried Child (1978; Pulitzer Prize), True West (1980), Fool for Love (1983), Lie of the Mind (1985), States of Shock (1991), and Simpatico (1994). In addition, he wrote the screenplay for Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1972), the film about Bob Dylan, Renaldo and Clara (1978), Wim Wender's Paris, Texas (1984), and his own Fool for Love (1985).

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi Thēbas; Septem contra Thebas) to Sir Walter Scott and Scotland