Sam Shepard's work strikes a chord with young theatre artists
American playwright Sam Shepard’s death last year prompted at least one Canadian fan to set some theatre wheels in motion.
“I believe that, on the night Sam Shepard passed, Lesli (Brownlee) put in a request for the rights,” said Jamie King, who is directing Shepard’s 1983 play Fool for Love for a new theatre collective.
“It was that immediate for her. She felt this desire and longing to do one of his shows. She reached out to me about a month later. I had been feeling the same as her, that kind of lonesomeness when someone who’s been influential passes. I hopped on board right away.”
To put on the play, Brownlee established ABB Collective. The group of theatre artists have come together for a one-and-done mounting of the Shepard play.
One of his better-known works, Fool For Love premiered in San Francisco in 1983. It was a finalist for a 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Numerous productions, as well as a Robert Altman-directed movie (released 1985 starring Shepard and Kim Basinger), followed. It finally premiered on Broadway in 2015, with Sam Rockwell.
In the play, former lovers May (Brownlee) and Eddie (Alex Rose) come together in a motel room at the edge of the desert for a kind of last stand. They spend most of the play emotionally and physically sparring (the show has a fight choreographer, Sylvie La Riviere). Two other characters, a father figure simply called Old Man (Duncan Fraser), and Martin (Mike Gill), May’s date, appear later.
Shepard, who was 73 when he died, was in his 30s when he wrote many of his best-known works, including True West, A Lie of the Mind, and Fool for Love. Often seen as uniquely American, his work is striking a chord with the current generation of young theatre-makers.
The 29-year-old King recalls at a formative age seeing Shepard plays that were mounted by Main Street Theatre at Little Mountain Gallery.
“I remember them having this stirring effect on me because they were such intimate productions, and so visceral,” said King, who last year received the Ray Michal Prize for Most Promising New Director as part of the 2017 Jessie Awards.
“And I remember being really moved by them. And I think there’s a bunch of other people in the Vancouver theatre scene who feel the same way.
“But I also think that Sam Shepard speaks very much to where we are right now. He writes for those disenfranchised people who are told they can have the world, who are promised the American dream and get nothing.”
From the collective’s first reading of the play to rehearsals in the days leading up to the run, King and the actors have discovered new layers in Shepard’s work.
“We’ve realized how funny the script is. He’s a very funny writer. He doesn’t write jokes but he’ll write these tension breaks that are bright and let you breathe out and release. In our first read, it was this heated, fast-paced script. We still have that, but we have the other side, the humour. It feels a lot more like life.”
The play opens on Valentine’s Day, making this desperate romance a possible date-night — or not.
“We’re not sure how much of Valentine’s Day date it is,” she said. “But we’re pitching it as a good one to bring an ex to.”