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Last night Heart in Hand Theatre opened Cowboy Mouth in Toronto and, though I'm not sure I'll be able to see it until next weekend, I'm really excited that they are tackling such a provocative Sam Shepard piece.
Sam Shepard is nothing if not provocative. There is almost always a moment in his works where you stop and think "yeah. He went there." Somehow, however, he rarely elicits an eye roll from me. Shepard has a way of crafting oddities into poetry thereby avoiding cliche. If you haven't experienced it yet, it is masterful.
He's has contributed about 50 plays to the canon of American drama. He has won many highly-regarded awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Buried Child. He is shameless, fearless and a creative machine.
Comedic? Barely. His award winning work first full-length piece La Turista (1967) is actually pretty funny until its pace takes a turn for the crazy at the end of the show and things become horrifying.
"Horrifying" doesn't begin to describe the series of beautifully freaky family tragedies that Shepard has penned beginning with Curse of the Starving Class (1978) through to Buried Child (1979), True West (1980), Fool for Love (1983) and A Lie of the Mind (1985). After reading each of these pieces, it becomes clear that, not only is Shepard fascinated with the back-alley absurdities of the "redneck" American West but he is really good at transforming these absurdities into eery realities. Shepard explores themes of abandonment, incest, wayward reunion and the unfortunate result of being tethered to a family whom you may not get along with, may not even like. These themes become vivid and moving even amongst the constant twists and turns that we're faced with when experience one of his pieces.
Other than family dramas, Shepard has explored theatre from a number of different angles. "Avante-Garde" is what he is usually taken for and, in many respects, Shepard has absolutely always been ahead of his time. For example, works such as Cowboy Mouth (1971) The Tooth of Crime (1972, Tongues (1978) and Suicide in B♭ (1976) incorporate Shepard's love for music. Through these works he has been able to express his fascination for the 1970s adornment of rock stars. He was before his time in his exploration of celebrity worship and the theme shines brilliantly in these works.
For a Sam Shepard experience, go see Cowboy Mouth produced by Heart in Hand Theatre and being performed at The Cameron House in Toronto until Feb. 14: http://www.heartinhandtheatre.com/