is no doubt that Sam Shepard is one of America’s most important
and prolific contemporary playwrights, as well as a well-known actor
and movie-star. Among other things his plays deal with modern social
concerns, i.e. individual alienation and the destructive forces of family
relationships in present-day American society.
Shepard was born under the name of Samuel Shepard Rogers in Fort Sheridan,
Illinois in 1943. His father, an army pilot, retired early to become
a farmer. So the family moved from South Dakota to Florida to Utah and
finally settled in a rural suburb of Los Angeles. As his father was
an alcoholic Shepard's memories of home are not very good.
After high-school he began to study agricultural science at Junior College
for a year. Finally, when his father began drinking heavily and the
situation of the family deteriorated, he joined "The Bishop's Repertory
Company", a touring theatre group that made a point of performing
plays based on Christian ideas and values.
At the age of twenty, Shepard moved to New York City, where he wrote
his first two one-act plays Cowboys and The Rock Garden. Both performed
in 1964. Because of their unconventional structure and their long monologues
written in manic language, they were criticized in many papers. Other
critics, however, acclaimed them as typical American and rather original.
Several other one-act plays followed and some of them won "Off
Broadway" awards ("Obies"). In 1969, two years after
his first full-length play, La Turista, he married the actress O-Lan
Johnson. In 1971 they moved to England with their son Jesse Mojo. During
the summer of 1972 not fewer than five Shepard plays were performed
in London and won an enthusiastic audience. Thus he decided to concentrate
on his career as a playwright. It was in 1979 that Shepard won a Pulitzer
Prize for his play Buried Child, a darkly funny family
drama full of powerful and violent metaphors and perhaps Shepard's most
chilling analysis of the American family. One year later another family
play, True West (1980), was staged both in New York and San Francisco.