You may know Sam Shepard from his roles in Steel Magnolias, The Pelican Brief, Black Hawk Down, The Notebook, or The Right Stuff—which garnered him a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager. But Sam Shepard was also a prolific playwright—he wrote 44 plays, many of which were nominated or won awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and numerous Obie Awards. Sam Shepard died at the age of 73 on July 27, 2017.
Local theatre artists, including Lesli Brownlee and Jamie King, got together to create ABB Collective—with the singular purpose of honouring the late Sam Shepard. According to ABB’s press kit, they “will exist for this one, ephemeral moment—to stage a great play and then disband.” That play is Fool for Love, on February 13-24.
ABB stands for “Ain’t Been Buffaloed,” a western phrase meaning “haven’t been fooled” and comes from a line in the play: “Right in the moment when you’re sure you’ve got me buffaloed. That’s when you’ll die.”
Theatre Wire chatted with Director Jamie King and Producer and Actor Lesli Brownlee about the importance of Sam Shephard and their upcoming production of Fool for Love.
Theatre Wire: What inspired you to do this play?
Lesli Brownlee: The passing of Sam Shepard. I wanted to do something to pay homage to him. I’d kind of quit acting and was in the middle of writing a draft of a play when I realized how much I owed Shepard. When he passed, I felt like I needed to do something to say thank you. Especially to his insistence that you don’t need to resolve everything up all tidy like. I write Sam Shepardesque, Shepardian, Shepardy(?) endings and when anyone complains I just point at him. However, I’m also ready to move away from his influence maybe figure out how to resolve a few things in my work and in my life. So playing May in Fool for Love is perfect!
Jamie King: Sam Shepard has been a longtime favourite of mine. I first encountered him as a teen in acting classes doing a scene study from Curse of the Starving Class. The text was so angry and evocative (all things that I wanted to be). Later, I saw True West at the Vancouver Playhouse with my dad, and it was the first time we both had really jammed over the same play. I remember smelling the toast from the real toasters on the set and being overwhelmed by how sensory theatre is. Plus, I think you always put extra weight on the moments you bond with your parent over a mutual interest. Sam Shepard loomed large above my dad and me. He gulfed our generational divide.
When Shepard died earlier this year I felt engulfed with sadness. Reading Patti Smith’s words about him I was struck by her description of how what he wrote: “He sang in those mountains by a bonfire, old songs written by broken men in love with their own vanishing nature.” How potent the themes of those plays are now. How much of the anger and divisiveness of the States could be foretold by the anger and hopelessness of these 30/40 year old plays. When Lesli reached out to me I think I jumped clear across the room to be a part of this script—to hear his words spoken into the vibrating and electric air of the theatre.
Theatre Wire: What are you most looking forward to about the performances?
Jamie King: Watching how these characters are drawn to each other. The best part for a director is watching your company fall into harmonious rhythm. Also, I love a bit of brutality, so I’m excited to see that come into play as well.
Theatre Wire: What things do you want your performances to prompt people to think about?
Jamie King: The problems we are facing today have not appeared out of nowhere. They are cyclical and generational, and pervasive.
Lesli Brownlee: I’d rather they just feel.
Theatre Wire: What can audiences expect from a performance?
Jamie King: Some good music, some beautiful words, some powerful actors, some timeless fucked up love.
Lesli Brownlee: Thrills, chills, and all of the feelings. I heard someone, can’t remember who, say that a play is like an object. Each audience member brings their own subjective experience and the view of the play changes depending on where you’re standing. Fool for Love is like a kaleidoscope of all the feelings you go through in relationships. Your experience will depend entirely on where you’re at with love.
Fool for Love runs February 13-24 at the Shop Theatre, located at 3030 East Broadway. Buy tickets now, or purchase tickets to this show and two more and your tickets are automatically discounted to Subscription rates! Check out all the shows that are part of the Subscription here.