Reflecting on Sam Shepard’s influence in theater

Aug 1, 2017

The death of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard has a member of Buffalo's theater community reflecting on his work. WBFO's Senior Reporter caught up with Theater Talk Co-host Anthony Chase.

“Honestly, I'm shocked. That this is one of the huge looming names of my generation,” Chase said.  

WBFO's Theater Talk co-host Anthony Chase reflected on the work of Sam Shepard.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Chase made his remarks siting directly in front of downtown Buffalo's Theater District sign on Main Street. The 73-year-old Shepard died of complications from Lou Gehrig's disease.

"Remarkable contribution in terms of reshuffling and reusing the icons of American in almost a Walt Whitman kind of way and the influence he had on the generation of writers that followed him," Anthony Chase remarked.

The playwright and actor was a major contributor to theater and films through the years, leaving a big impression on Chase.

“I think a distinctly American voice – a new American voice and expanding beyond the realism that we had grown to accept as just the vernacular of the American theater. Even though Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill departed from realism – this was the hallmark of a Sam Shepard play – that 'where does reality end and fantasy begin' or 'what is true and what is not,' very often the truth is woven into the titles of the plays,” reflected Chase.   

Chase recalled Shepard's most famous works, plots that often tackled complicated family lives, including his 1979 Buried Child that won him the Pulitzer.

“And so hugely influential on so many playwrights that came after him. I was privileged to see the original Yale Rep production of Buried Child as a teenager and it just altered the mind of what could happen in the theater – just his deft ability to take American archetypes and weave them into stories in huge ways – he did not prefer to act in his own plays,” Chase noted.

Shepard was nominated for Pulitzer's for True West in 1981 and Fool for Love in '83. He also acted in films and was nominated for an Oscar for the 1983 movie The Right Stuff portraying Chuck Yeager. 

“Remarkable contribution in terms of reshuffling and reusing the icons of American in almost a Walt Whitman kind of way and the influence he had on the generation of writers that followed him,” Chase remarked.