• U.S.

THEATER: Arid Country

2 minute read
Richard Zoglin

A SEEDY MOTEL ROOM. DIRTY clothes piled at the foot of the bed. Two men are engaged in a long discussion of a crime they committed years before, involving the blackmail of a horse-racing official. Carter (Ed Harris) is well dressed, assertive, nervous. Vinnie (Fred Ward) is grungy, passive, primitive. We’re in Sam Shepard country, all right, a place of blasted American dreams and macho power games. There was a time (Curse of the Starving Class, True West, Fool for Love) when that country was an essential stop on any tour of the American theater. No longer. Simpatico, Shepard’s first new full-length play in nearly a decade, is a pretty arid stretch of land.

Shepard, of course, has lately turned most of his attention to Hollywood, acting in movies (The Pelican Brief, Steel Magnolias), directing a couple (Far North) and being the husband of a Hollywood star, Jessica Lange. His new work, which opened last week off-Broadway under Shepard’s own direction, seems an exercise in nostalgia for his old, avant-garde self. The plot is purposely spare, and the dialogue maddeningly elliptical, rising only to an occasional pretentious epigram: “People drifting apart — it’s worse than death.”

The talented cast (including Beverly D’Angelo as the woman who left Vinnie for Carter and James Gammon as the disgraced racing official) huffs and puffs but can’t blow any life into these windy three hours. Shepard’s wordplay lacks the wit and profane poetry of more accomplished practitioners like David Mamet. Simpatico is both coy and lazy: it invites the audience to fill in the gaps, to look for meanings. No thanks.

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