Theatre: Two by Sam Shepard


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
April 9, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 15

Theatre: Two by Sam Shepard
by Martin Washburn

Sam Shepard’s “THE UNSEEN HAND” has the terrific plot of the most flagrant kind of good science fiction adventure yarn. An old coot with the unlikely name of Blue Morphan snoozes in the back of the wrecked Chevy he inhabits and amuses himself by pretending that an imaginary driver has picked him up and is dropping him off. Beeson Carroll is very assured and solid in giving the picture of an old man who has become something of an artist at amusing himself with his fantasies, without losing touch with what’s really happened.

That makes the contrast all the better when the fantastic sight of Willie the Space Freak materializes. This creature has travelled through two galaxies just to make contact with this coot in particular — Willie, you see, is a member of a race of baboons brought for the sake of experiment to a level of tortured genius by the cruel magician-scientists of a distant planet. He plans to resurrect Blue’s two brothers so the old gang can gallop across the galaxies and shoot it out with the sorcerers. He has just succeeded at the revivals when a male cheerleader from Azusa shows up, who has just been de-pantsed by the opposing team. This kid, who is even more of a freak than Willie, ultimately contributes to the scheme with suggestions from the revolutionary doctrines of Mao…and there’s more, more.

Willie is played admirably straight, with super powers and super jitters, by Lee Kissman; in his costume (by Linda Fisher) his appearance is practically a work of art. David Clennon as cheerleader is a vivid instance of hysterical patriotism.

“FORENSIC AND THE NAVIGATORS” (second on the bill — both directed by Jeff Bleekner at the Astor Place Theatre) was more fragmented in plot and more distractingly allusive. But it was funny and charming, and never quite as funny and charming as its heroine, O-Lan Johnson Shepard.

If these plays had been the outrageous insistence by young talent to please itself and write absolutely for its own immediate pleasure, in defiance of the themes of high culture which supposedly sanction art, I think I would have loved them. Often, however, they pointedly referred to problems of cultural malaise with which the artistic conscience of our times has struggled, referring not exactly to those problems, as if reluctant to let go of larger ambitions. There crept in, therefore, an air of talent slumming which limited my reaction to keen enjoyment.

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