Brey Barrett – "The Duality of Sam Shepard"

Tue, 01/28/2014

One the first day of rehearsals, Matt Pfeiffer shared this quote from Sam Shepard; “We’re split in a much more devastating way than psychology can ever reveal,” and disclosed that with True West, Shepard “ wanted to write a play about double nature.”

True West is considered one of Sam Shepard’s family plays, which are immersed in facing a truer identity of one’s self and the terrifying reality that is the duality of man. Shepard himself has been known to have two different personas: the illustrious, isolated cowboy, and the Hollywood actor-screenwriter playboy. These two tropes make themselves present in True West as he embodies them in the two brothers of Lee and Austin.

In Shepard’s earlier writing, it is clear that a man is informally writing in order to tell the story, indicative of his perspective that writing just came naturally to him. As his writing goes on, and he moves from his shorter pieces, such as the more absurdist Cowboy Mouth, to a more properly structured play, such as Buried Child, and in True West, he starts to find his form. How he portrays Austin in True West as the screenwriter playing the Hollywood game seems distasteful to his own personal new way of life. And so he harkens back to a way of life that seems to be more in tune with that young vivacious playwright that he was when writing his shorter New York plays.

Once he finds a more formal way of telling a story, Shepard seems to acknowledge a lot more of his past within his own writing, acknowledging a more troubled family presence and a disdain for a lack of authenticity. As Shepard observed, “It is one of the great tragedies of our contemporary life in America, that families fall apart. Almost everybody has that in common.”

Thus, he utilizes the troubled relationship between the two brothers as a way of dealing with his own personal duality. This includes the well-publicized fractured relationship with his own father. His work has often given light to family issues while forcing characters to see themselves as they truly are. With True West, which he stated that he re-wrote thirteen times, he captures a need to acknowledge both personal authenticity (or lack thereof) and the inescapable nature of one’s family legacy.

Even three decades later, what Shepard is forcing us to face with True West is still incredibly relevant, and even more so as we try to separate ourselves from our own realities.