A Family Christmas Play

Sam Shepard’s True West opens in NYC – December 23, 1980


“I can’t stay here. This is worse than being homeless.”

The perfect play for the holidays … especially if you’re reuniting with family  … Sam Shepard’s savage comic drama about sibling warfare (and a few other things) opened at The Public Theater with Peter Boyle and Tommy Lee Jones as estranged brothers Lee and Austin. Earlier in the year, True West had had its world premiere at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, where Shepard was writer-in-residence.

3 thoughts on “A Family Christmas Play

  1. I sat between Sam Shepard and James Owen Shepard at the first reading of this play at Los Angeles Actors Theatre in 1979. We were doing “Buried Child” (I created the buried child prop for that production) and was invited as a member of the theatre company and a member of the playwright’s workshop. I was ecstatic. Jimmy Gammon was reading, another bonus. But as the play progressed I realized I hated the play! It appeared at that time to be about screenwriting and process. No one wants to sit through a play about writing! At least writers don’t! I was devastated. My hero had feet of clay!

    I avoided talking about the play (which was easy as Shepard – the one on my left!) wanted no feedback. The Shepard on my right (Jim) and I agreed that we were very disappointed.

    In an acting class with George Loros I worked on a scene from the play at the request of my scene partner. I saw how powerful the writing really was, from the inside. How so few words could contain so much emotion and energy! I began to change my opinion of the script.

    A couple of years later I saw the televised version and realized the play wasn’t what I thought it was. He had reworked it thoroughly and it was, of course, marvelous. Amazing experience all-in-all.


    1. Fantastic story, Lawrence! And I remember seeing the Shepard on your left at LAAT several times and a terrific one-act there by the Shepard on your right at about the same time. LAAT should have been The Public Theatre of Los Angeles (and almost was) but, as with most theater companies, the schisms began and the original intent got lost.


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