In the Bay Area, there are so many theater companies that I can’t be season subscribers to them all. But occasionally some of them collaborate and produce something truly special. As a celebration of Sam Shepard’s 70th birthday, Magic Theatre is sponsoring a series of works called Sheparding America. One of those pieces is 36 Stories by Sam Shepard, which is an ambitious adaptation of an assortment of short stories culled from five of Shepard’s books and strung together rather masterfully for the stage in classic Word for Word style.
The soul behind this piece of theater is Amy Krossow, who worked on it for two years, reading and rereading Shepard’s stories, putting them in groups and finding common themes, cobbling together parts of stories to make one play. She centered it on a traveling writer who attempts to write and gets stuck, then starts over. At the heart of the play is a story that Shepard himself broke into five pieces about a head that’s been separated from its body.
The cast is first rate. Four of them play multiple parts, all so distinctly it seems as though the audience sees twenty different actors on stage rather than five. Carl Lumbly, who has done solid work on television, including Alias, is a marvelous voice for the Head as well as an incredible hawk. Delia MacDougall also shows great range in her portrayals of both a mercenary and a dead mother. JoAnne Winter, who is also one of Word for Word’s artistic directors, provided some humor as a waitress and a woman driving her mother’s dead ashes to her sister’s. One of my favorite scenes was this same character who comes upon an injured hawk in the road and doesn’t know what to do. Patrick Alparone is charming and provides musical accompaniment on his guitar as well. Ron Gnapp plays the writer and serves as the central character who dreams up the stories we see.
The concept was inspired, and the execution was a beautifully woven tapestry of Shepard’s prose. Kudos all around.