A Body across the Map: The Father-Son Plays of Sam Shepard

A Body across the Map: The Father-Son Plays of Sam Shepard

A Body across the Map: The Father-Son Plays of Sam Shepard

A Body across the Map: The Father-Son Plays of Sam Shepard

Synopsis

Michael Taav teaches at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

Excerpt

Sam Shepard's plays have long interested me. I recall first being introduced to his work in 1973 when a friend gave me a badly xeroxed copy of The Tooth of Crime. The play had a very profound impact. It was not that the work was thematically unique; plays dealing with the dangers inherent in both American success and failure, in the commercialization of our best impulses, have long been a part of our theatre. Rather, it was Shepard's characters and their idioms which clearly distinguished his work from that of both his contemporaries and the major American playwrights who had preceded him. Shepard was truly a rock-and-roller, a man who, either by inclination or lack of choice, had taken for his banner the whole, coarse, colorful fabric of American popular culture. Here was a playwright who was writing about his generation from the inside, who shared its enthusiasm for beatnik cool, science fiction, gangster films, and rock-and- roll, and was able to take these disparate forms, filter them through a poetic imagination and create serious art.

Since that epiphanic introduction, I have followed Shepard's work closely, taking careful note of how it has (and has not) evolved in terms of structure, characterization, theme, and central conflict. I first perceived Shepard's plays to deal primarily with a social order in conflict; be it with an emerging counterculture, or its own mythic and idealized past. As I continued to study his work, however, I began to discern that beneath this conflict often lies a more archetypal struggle, that between fathers and sons. It is my contention, in fact, that it is this conflict which dominates a major part of Shepard's work and that if investigated chronologically, one will be able to see clearly how Shepard's moral perspective has not only reversed itself through time but has grown more complex and profound.

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