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Sam Shepard was born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois on November 5, 1943. His father served in the Air Force as a fighter pilot in World War II and then retired to a farm in Duarte, California where Shepard was raised. As a youth, Shepard was often troubled by his heavy-drinking father. Sam Shepard studied agriculture for a year at San Antonio Junior College and then left to join a touring company of actors. In 1963 he moved to New York City where he served tables at the Village Gate, in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, where legendary jazz performers played. Within a year, Shepard had several of his plays produced in Off-Off Broadway theaters. Fatefully, Shepard began his work in the theater in New York City during the birth of the Off-Off Broadway movement. His work was made at experimental avant-garde venues such as CaffÃ Cino, the Open Theatre, the American Place Theatre and La Mama. Young talent like Shepard dared to shock and surprise audiences with avant-garde, daring, and groundbreaking work on next to nothing budgets. Shepard's early influences include rock and roll, jazz and popular culture. At a time when lowbrow and highbrow art were less and less clearly defined, Shepard deftly incorporated non-literary influences like radio, movies, advertising and rock and roll in his unconventional plays. Less than four years after arriving in New York, Shepard's plays won the Village Voice newspaper's OBIE awards for his plays Chicago, Red Cross, and Icarus's Mother.
From the beginning of his writing career, Shepard's work reveals he is more interested in consciousness than in reality. His plays are landscapes of emotions that contain states of mind inside the self. More than typical dramatic action or the typical character and story arc of a traditional play, Shepard's plays like Fool for Love resemble the surreal and often absurd and contradictory realm of dreams or the subconscious. His characters such as the ones in Fool for Love have no tragic flaw or fateful quest. They sort through the emotional tumult of their lives in a power struggle where identity is vague, time is cyclical, and the past haunts the present. As in a dream, memories are often idealized and altered to suit the needs of the dreamer.
Shepard's work seems to run parallel with is own journey to come to terms with his identity. He has been attributed as saying, "I preferred a character that was constantly unidentifiable, shifting through the actor, so that the actor could almost play anything, and the audience was never expected to identify with the character." So different and yet sharing attributes with his father, Shepard's life has been one of creating and playing roles. Newsweek once featured Shepard on the cover with the title, "Leading Man, Playwright, Maverick." After 1985, Shepard starred in over fifteen feature films while staging only two new plays. Shepard's career in acting has often overshadowed his enormous influence on theater. This Hollywood star status heightened with his relationship to Oscar-winning actress, Jessica Lange.
Shepard wrote Fool for Love shortly after breaking up with his wife O-Lan to be with Jessica Lange. In a letter to his friend and virtuoso collaborator, Joe Chaikin, Shepard described his play, Fool for Love as "the outcome of all this tumultuous feeling I've been going through this past year...it's a very emotional play and in some ways embarrassing for me to witness but somehow necessary at the same time." Few writers manage to elevate higher than the sensationalism of confessional drama, but Shepard's allegory for his own loss and love rises above and provides us with an intensely powerful personal drama that draws us in with its manic depiction of ill-fated love.
Shepard died in July 2017.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Fool For Love!