For the last two months I’ve been going to the Boxcar theatres over and over to see their Sam Shepard plays in repertory. Seeing this many plays of his, in such a short amount of time, in these tiny theatres, has been an incredible opportunity. Some brief thoughts:
Buried Child: I saw this one first, at the Boxcar Playhouse on Natoma. I had no idea what to expect when I went in. I ended up sitting in the middle of a row of people I’d never met before, but by the end of the evening it felt like we were all best friends. Buried Child became this kind of trip that we were all taking with each other. This is a really intense play, and I don’t know if Sam Shepard intended it to be as funny as we all thought it was, but once one of us started laughing we were all laughing together. And then the play seemed to get funnier as it continued. Whatever preconceptions I had about what kind of a writer Shepard is, or what’s possible during an evening of theatre, went out the window with this one.
Fool for Love: Once again the audience and the theatre itself were an important part of the experience. When the play started multiple cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon were popped open around the room. Which is not to say there was anything at all lacking in the cast. On the contrary, they were all fantastic. And part of the joy of having these plays in repertory is getting to see the same people as multiple characters in different environments. For this particular play one of the boxcar studios on Hyde Street has been transformed into a seedy motel room. It’s not like watching them perform on a stage – it’s like being in a motel with them. You can practically hear their hearts beating. I’ve seen Fool for Love a bunch of times, including the original New York City production at Circle Repertory Theatre in 1983. Every time it’s different, and even now I’m still not sure what exactly is happening in this story. But I love Fool for Love, and this is an awesome staging of it.
True West: Another play I’d never seen before, and what a way to check it out. Boxcar’s True West seemed to continue and amplify the elements that had gone into make the previous two plays so memorable. Down a narrow hallway from where Fool for Love is simultaneously playing, past some mysterious industrial metal doors, is another black box theatre that has been transformed into a family kitchen. There are audience seats set up everywhere, including between the stove and refrigerator. The smell of burnt toast near the end of the play is inescapable, as is the relationship between the two brothers. It’s both frightening and hilarious.
Staged Readings/Workshops: There were several one-act plays that were done for limited appearances when there were dark nights in the studio theatres (which wasn’t often.) I wish I’d been able to see more of them. Of course there was no way of knowing in advance how much I’d enjoy the ones that I did. The “Shep Rep” festival has kind of built up it’s own momentum, and I have gotten caught up in it. I did manage to catch Suicide in B-flat, which was excellently staged by those rising stars of the Bay Area theatre world, “Do It Live! Productions.” For some reason this was the Sam Shepard play that made the most sense to me. It’s got a non-linear plot and some of the weirdest dialogue I heard during the fest, but I totally got it.
And then there were two short one-acts done back-to-back, Action and 4-H Club. The first play ended with the characters hanging sheets over laundry lines and completely cutting off the view of the audience. When the sheets came down the set had been changed and the second play began. They did a fabulous job of reviving these early gems from Shepard’s off-off-Broadway days. And how often does this kind of stuff get done anymore? Clearly, I can now say, not enough.
Sam Shepard in Repertory continues at boxcar’s playhouse and studios till April 14. They’re also doing Lie of the Mind, which I’ll be seeing next. And Do It Live! Productions is moving Suicide in B-flat over to the Mission for two weekends of late night gigs at Stagewerx. I’ll likely go back for repeat viewings of as many of these as I can, because I don’t want the fun to end.
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