"Cowboys, lobsters and Sam Shepard"
by Coco Hall for remotegoat on 16/11/09

In this Sam Shepard double bill presented by touring theatre company Peppermint Muse, all the characters are massively dysfunctional. Nothing new for Shepard then.

The first play, 'Cowboy Mouth' was written in the '70s with Patti Smith and is fairly autobiographical. A wild Patti Smith character, Cavale, kidnaps a presumably Sam Shepard character, the wacky and barely together Slim, and holds him prisoner in a motel room, with the aim of turning him into a rock-and-roll star.

There's no question that some of the words are lyrical. But the play now seems dated and very self-indulgent. It has the uneasy fascination of a motorway pile-up. Cavale mopes around posturing and stroking a dead black crow, Slim is alternatively driven and then cowed, and then in a surreal moment, a giant lobster is transformed into the next rock-and-roll hope.

Stephen Cunningham as Slim and Jenny Ayres as Cavale capture something of the booze and drug-fuelled vibe of the early '70s, but this is a car-crash couple you really wouldn't want to invite to your home.

The second play 'Fool for Love', written some years later is the stronger, indeed award-winning piece. Written in 1982, the play is about an all-consuming, inescapable relationship that has haunted two people since their school-days.

Another desolate motel room, this time on the edge of the Mojave Desert, where May and Eddie act out a 15-year cycle of passion and abandonment. When the play starts, May, Eddie and The Old Man are holed-up in a run-down motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Nobody speaks.

Despite some wavering American accents, Lisa White as May and John Stenhouse as Eddie are convincing as the half-siblings who can't live together, but can't function alone either. They draw others into their soap opera; Eddie has been pursued to the motel by a rich lover, who shoots out his truck, May has drawn new boyfriend Martin to the motel, where Eddie terrorises him.

A ghostly presence throughout (quite literally, he sits onstage, not really interacting with either May or Eddie,) The Old Man is father to both, by different mothers. Neither knew about the other before they started 'fooling around' during high school and since then they can't be together, but they can't be apart. And even at the end of the play, not much has changed.

When it premiered in 1983, 'Fool For Love' may have been more shocking to audiences. A little bit of consensual incest doesn't really have the power to shock compared to recent real-life events.

The choice to give these early works a breath of fresh life was brave, there are thematic similarities so they make a good pair, although maybe each as a short and sweet little snippet of Shepard would stand on its own, as a time-locked little piece of history, but as a double bill something about it doesn't quite come off.

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