Monday, July 31, 2017

A Play Has Got To Say Something

With the passing of American playwright Sam Shepard, I was reminded of a most interesting experience that unfolded at the scene of what is arguably Shepard's most critically acclaimed play, "Buried Child."
Here's what happened.
I'd read some of the reviews of the play and wanted to see it.  So I asked a friend of mine to accompany me.  My friend, Ed Robbin had joined the cast of a modest production about the life of Woody Guthrie that I too was involved in at the time.  We're talking Bay Area circa early 1980s.
Ed had directed plays in the 30s and aside from being the guy who first put Woody on the radio, has a few accomplished friends.  He'd drop names like Theodore Dreiser or mention projects he's worked on with frequency so I thought, naturally it would be useful and informative to watch this play with Ed.  Besides, Ed was in his late 70s at this time and was delighted to get the opportunity to attend a play in San Francisco without having to drive at night.
Now, "Buried Child" was a bit of an avant guarde play and I was sure Ed would share his thoughts in a way that might put this particular piece of work in perspective.  Ed had liberally sprinkled his expertise as a director on our small Woody Guthrie production, so I knew he could talk the talk.
We watch the play and then before the audience leaves, the director comes onstage and informs the audience that they are being afforded the opportunity to meet the cast and director.
If interested, we can make our way downstairs to the first 10 rows of the center section of the theater and the discussion of the play will promptly begin in in about 5 minutes.
Most people depart the theater to cabs and nearby parking lot, but I ask Ed if he wants to remain and he quickly says, "sure."

We join about 75 people downstairs and await this opportunity.
The curtain opens to the cast arranged on chairs in a half moon behind the director.
The director thanks everybody and then begins to entertain questions or comments from the audience.
After a few comments about the plot and characters, my friend Ed rises and raises his hand.  He was immediately recognized.  I knew he would be because of his appearance.  Ed is an olive skinned man with long white hair covered by a seaman's cap.  He just looks like he is somebody worthy of comment.
Ed addresses the actors first: "You're all very good." Then he looks at the director.  But the play doesn't say anything.  A play has got to say something, and this play doesn't say anything."
Silence.  Ed looks at me.  "C'mon Bruce, let's go."
I always wondered if Sam Shepard was in the house that night.  One thing I do know is that "Buried Child" won the Pulitzer Prize that year.  So...somebody heard something.

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