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August 3, 2017


Sam Shephard ‘True West’

by N@ncy

  • Author: S. Shepard
  • Title: Seven Plays
  • Published: 1984
  • Trivia:  S. Shepard died 31 July 2017….so sad.
  • #PulitzerPrize Drama 1979 Buried Child
  • #PulitzerPrize Drama nomination 1983 True West
  • #PulitzerPrize Drama nomination 1984 Fool for Love


  1. Sometimes when I read that an icon in literature has died
  2. ….I feel so sad.
  3. This week (31 July 2017) we lost  Sam Shephard.
  4. I will honor his legacy by reading Shephards seven plays.
  5. I was able to find 2 plays on Buried Child and True West.
  6. I want to feel, read, and hear the words of Sam Shepard.


Sam Shepard:

  1. Shepard is the author of forty-four plays as well as
  2. ….several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs.
  3. Shepard received Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for play  Buried Child.
  4. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
  5. ….for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983).
  6. Shepard was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986.
  7. The members are chosen for life and have included
  8. …some of the leading figures in the American art scene.
  9. Sam Shepard dropped out of college but
  10. ….got his diploma at the School of Hard Knocks.


Table of Contents:

  • Buried Child – Pulitzer Prize 1979
  • True West – nominated for Pulitzer Prize
  • Curse of the Starving Class
  • The Tooth of Crime
  • La Turista
  • Tongues  and  Savage/Love
  • ….these are theater piece, experimental plots reduced to sounds and utterances.

True West:


  1. Characters:  Austin – Lee (brothers) – Saul (producer) – Mom (comic relief)
  2. Location: outskirts of LA….border with the desert
  3. Timeline:   2,5 days
  4. Lighting: moonlight, candlelight and blazing yellow light (desert landscape)
  5. Sounds: chirping crickets , yapping coyotes and ticking on typewriter
  6. Major props: typewriter, TV, toasters, golf club, telephone cable


  1. Two brothers clash. 
  2. Lee is the drifter, the man of the desert.
  3. He is envious of  his brother  Austin, the successful screenwriter.
  4. Austin feels his story (filled with  imagination) is the True West.
  5. Lee replies  “There’s no West anymore. It’s a dead issue”.

How is the stage set?

  1. Starkness with only light (moonlight, candle, blazing yellow light)
  2. …as an emotional beacon.
  3. Trashy or dirty  room…kitchen.
  4. It is a world of discards and throwaways.
  5. At the end of the play the interior is  strewn with debris.


What is the conflict?

  1. Austin (writer, educated)  argues that the West no longer exists
  2. … turns out that he really wants it to.
  3. He creates ‘his’ West in a fictionalized screenplay.
  4. Lee can’t go back to the West…. because it never really existed.
  5. The West is only in movies.
  6. The West is in the minds of both brothers as a place of escape
  7. …because they both are unhappy in with their present life.


What do you notice when you compare opening  with the closing scene?

  1. Opening:
  2. Night – Kitchen – sounds crickets in the night – moonlight fills the kitchen; candle illuminates the alcove.  Austin is seated at glass table hunched over a writing notebook, typewriter.  Lee with beer in hand is sitting on counter behind him.


  1. Closing:
  2. Mid-day – Kitchen that transforms into  desert-like landscape – No sound,  blazing heat of  a high-noon yellow light, stage strewn with debris.  Austin  and Lee assume a fighting stance and prepare to exchange blows…again.


  1. The first and final scenes are vastly different.
  2. The peaceful co-existence between brothers (act 1;1)  ends (act 2;9)
  3. in a violent strangulation brawl showing the decline in their relationship.


Do characters become wholly different in the course of the play?

  1. This took me time to figure out….
  2. Austin:  goes from playing a ROLE –> to playing himself
  3. Austin is confident and an accomplished writer in the beginning. Saul the producer is going to be his ‘big break. When Saul rejects the screenplay… Austin doubts his talent will help him achieve his dream. Austin decides to try Lee’s way of life.
  4. He becomes irresponsible….and starts stealing toasters!
  5. Lee: Austin:  goes from playing HIMSELF -> to playing a role!
  6. Beginning: Austin and Lee are complete opposites.
  7. Austin is clean cut, conventional writing a screenplay for producer, Saul.
  8. Lee is a drifter,  ill-kept and  burglarizes the neighborhood…a petty thief.
  9. End: Austin and Lee reverse character traits.
  10. Austin has assumed Lee’s habits of heavy drinking and petty crime.
  11. Lee ‘s movie idea has won Saul’s favor and Lee
  12. …starts to work hard to promote his ideas!


What did I notice on the audio book?

  1. Shepard takes great care to write extensive stage directions.
  2. Lighting, the position of the actors  and the actions without words
  3. …..that can transform the audience….is what I have to imagine.
  4. But the audio book…. produces the sounds.
  5. There were two main sound effects….the crickets and coyotes
  6. …in Shepard’s stage directions.
  7. Did I hear them on the audio book?
  8. All the sounds were wonderful…!
  9. I do recommend  reading the play
  10. …and then listening to it.
  11. The impact is so different.
  12. The audio book brought out the humor in the play
  13. …that I missed by just reading the script!
  14. Audio book:  1 hour 12 min.



  1. Weak point: Introduction in this book by Yale University professor
  2. ….R. Gilman was a disappointment
  3. I expected more…his ‘heart’  was not into this essay.
  4. Seven plays are listed in the book
  5. Weak point: ….but really there are just five.
  6. The last two selections Tongues and Savage/Love
  7. pieces, experimental plots reduced to sounds and utterances.
  8. Shepard resists telling the audience what it should think.
  9. True West is an open-ended play.
  10. There is not denouement….Shepard hated endings.
  11. Weak point: This may  please some readers….and frustrate others.
  12. Strong point: with no formal training in theater
  13. …Shepard managed to  produce plays in which people could relate to.
  14. Strong point:   His characters are brutally honest.
  15. Strong point: audio book.
  16. I love plays and whenever  a good one is available on Audible I buy it.
  17. Sounds sets the mood….reveals character in the voices.
  18. Sound just makes everything better.

Last thoughts:

  1. There is more in these plays … than meets the eye!
  2. On the surface as you read the play ….it  is a just a
  3. ..back and forth slinging of verbal salvos between brothers
  4. When you take the time to
  5. ask yourself some questions ( see review)
  6. only then do you see the layers in the play.
  7. This surprised me and only confirms the depth of thought
  8. …that was in this man, Sam Shepard.
  9. You have to did deep.
  10. I could only muster the energy to review one play
  11. …you’ll have to discover the rest yourself!

Broadway Production  True West  2000

  1. Philip S. Hoffman and John C. Reilly
  2. They both were nominated for Tony Awards for their roles!



9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reading, listening, well I hope one day you can also see one of these plays. Not a name I’m familiar with, but happy that he has a collection of work that will live on.


    • Aug 3 2017

      Sam Shepard with little training in stagecraft knew how to express the voices of his generation. There is a lot of conflict (brother vs brother) and especially father and son. Shepard’s bomber pilot father came back from WWII traumatized. The only medication he knew was alcohol. This family situation shaped Shepard’s life….and his plays. Research, read and review of a play is more exhausting than that of a novel! Thanks for you comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aug 3 2017

    It’s one of those ironies that since Sam Shephard’s death Ive undoubtedly learned more about him and his work than I did when he was alive. I like your idea of following up the reading of a play by listening to it on audio – I’m going to try that!


    • Aug 3 2017

      It was amazing how diffferent the impact is ….read or listen.
      The script felt flat and just abusive on paper.
      The audio brought the nuances of voice and the play changed completely!
      My only regret is that I have no opportunity to see any plays in English here….
      …thank goodness for and the occasional DVD or You Tube video!
      Thanks for you comments Col….and tonight the ‘clash of the titians!
      European Champ half final NL ladies vs UK ladies on the soccer pitch!
      I’ll be watching…will you?


      • Aug 3 2017

        I will be watching. Ordinarily I’m anybody but England (!!) but tonight will be hoping The English ladies win as my daughter is a massive fan and has ambitions to play for England Ladies herself one day! So it’s Three Lions for me for one night only!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aug 3 2017

        …tonight….may the best team win! NL Orange Lionesses!

        Liked by 1 person

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