The Great American Family Drama, by Sam Shepard

Sam ShepardThis morning, we woke up to the news that Sam Shepard passed away of Lou Gehrig's disease last Thursday. He will be remembered for his many acting roles in Hollywood movies such as The Right Stuff, Steel Magnolias, and August: Osage County, but he really made his mark as a playwriting giant. Like Eugene O' Neil, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams before him, Shepard earned a near-sacred place in the canon of the Great American Family Drama.

Shepard grew up in the southern California ranch town of Duarte. After making a name for himself as a playwright in such disparate locations New York City, Minnesota, and the United Kingdom, Shepard returned to California when he was invited to be playwright-in-residence for San Francisco's Magic Theatre. He held that post from 1974-1984, and it was during those years that he premiered the following seminal works, considered to be three central pieces in a quintet of "family plays":

Buried Child - 1978

Buried Child won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for drama and solidified Sam Shepard as a national name. It focuses on the cross-generational relationships of an Illinois farming family. To put it mildly, these relationships are pretty messed up.

True West - 1980

This family is also kind of messed up, but this time in southern California, featuring two brothers who drink and fight a lot. Through the years, the roles of the brothers have attracted acclaimed actors such as Gary Sinise, John Malkovich, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, and real-life brothers Dennis and Randy Quaid.

Fool for Love - 1983

While we only get painfully close to the desert in True West, Fool for Love places its characters in a cheap motel in the middle of the Mojave. The family relationships may be little bit more abstract here, but the one thing you can rely on is that they are messed up.

For more of Sam Shepard's prolific output as a playwright, fiction writer, and film actor, take a look in the library catalog.

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