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How the West Was Lost

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Stephen Rea, star of Kicking a Dead Horse.  

Reuniting with Rea and also with his old patron the Public (where he was last seen in 1994), Shepard thinks his plays are becoming even more interesting. He admires August: Osage County, but “I don’t want to do long family dramas. I’m just not interested in thrashing through those fields again.” He’s working on a new play for Rea, Ages of the Moon, about two old friends turned enemies. Sounds a little like True West or Simpatico, but he insists it’s a different breed. “I’m not interested in categorizing,” he says, “but [the new ones] seem to become themselves. They’re not calculated.”

His last play, The God of Hell, was unusually political; he claims the only time he voted was in 2004, mainly out of contempt for George W. Bush. For all of Bush’s blunders, Shepard seems most offended by his exploitation of cowboy tropes. “For George W. to be construed as a cowboy is about as far from the truth as you can possibly get. It’s ruined the reputation of Texas, which actually has more authenticity than many, many states—not in Dallas.” He’s also no fan of Hillary’s “riding around in trucks and talking about how she’s a blue-collar girl.”

But what really turns him off politics is the media’s phony typologies. Mention Obama’s “Appalachian problem,” and he says, “You find more racists in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles than you would in West Virginia—I guaran-damn-tee it.” The red-blue divide is “media manipulation” at its worst. So are we all—Bush, Clinton, Americans, Sam Shepard—a little like Hobart Struther, saddled with the baggage of obsolete myths? Is that what the dead horse is about? He leans back and sighs loudly.

“Look, look, there’s a saying in the cowboy culture that a real cowboy has the horseshit on the outside of his boots.” Which is our cue to ride off into the sunset.


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