Sunday, June 1, 2014

"36 Stories by Sam Shepard" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ !

How can it get any better than this? In Amy Kossow's "36 Stories by Sam Shepard," which is an adaptation of many Shepard stories done in classic Word For Word style, you get an incisive production, the words of a brilliant writer and, if possible, even a more brilliant cast.

When we say Carl Lumbly outdoes himself as a talking head, we don't mean a CNN pundit, we mean a talking head. The beheading has most likely been done by Delia MacDougall, an assassin of no small talents, and has been discovered lying in a basket in a ditch by Patrick Alparone. Lumbly's Caribbean touch brings us to sympathize with the head, who, after all, only wants Alparone to carry him to a nearby lake and dump him in. The problem is the head is very heavy. Why? (drum roll:) Dead Weight.

MacDougall is as feisty as Joanne Winter is subdued. In one typically underdone and morbidly funny role, Winter is driving her mother's ashes from Utah to Green Bay to be interred when she discovers an injured hawk (Lumbly) lying in the road.

Winter's dead mother and live sister (both played by MacDougall) are along for the ride as we watch the hawk teach everyone the power of the life force. In an evening of unforgettable set pieces, this is perhaps the most memorable -- no, wait, the seduction scene, which brings us to MacDougall and Rod Gnapp.

Gnapp plays the tormented (of course) but good-hearted (of course) writer whose words are being acted out on stage. Moving from town to town with no particular itinerary, Gnapp embodies the nomad spirit always at the heart of Sam Shepard's plays. We have never met Sam Shepard but would not be the least bit surprised to find he looks exactly like Rod Gnapp.

Sound effects: minimal, perfect. Staging: simple, perfect. The show is ninety minutes with no intermission and you'll wish you could stay in your seat and see it again.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ !
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is happy as a severed head in a lake to present "36 Stories by Sam Shepard" Four Stars with a big, sloppy Exclamation Point. Amy Kossow has managed to wrest a single, cohesive story out of an enormous body of work, and then cast and direct it so the audience can discover the simplicity not always easy to see in Sam Shepard's works. We think above all about relationships as we smile at our own failings and those of Shepard's beloved misfits.


"36 Stories by Sam Shepard"
Z Space Below
470 Florida Street, San Francisco
Through June 22

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