The Terribly Prescient Genius of Sam Shepard's True West.

Author:Moran, Daniel Thomas

"Life imitates art far more than art imitates life," Oscar Wilde professed. What I'm sure of is that artists often see something in life that drives them to try and capture it. They do it in poems, and, in a larger way, they do it in novels. They also do it in plays.

Interestingly, a play is a piece of writing that is not so much captured on the page as it is entombed in it. For a play to realize itself, it must be performed and staged in just the right way. It must leave the hands of the playwright and be put into the hands of producers, directors, actors, and set designers who must adopt a linkage of vision and purpose, all of which can be tenuous at best. It needs to be lit just right as well. And even with all that attention, it might still fail, and fail badly.

Playwrights are like magicians and they have to create both the illusion of reality and a plausible portrayal of it. They need it to be true and be compelling and, like all artists, they need to show us something of ourselves in a different light, on a different stage, yet in a recognizable voice and presence. As if that's not enough, the work of art should sustain a clear and continuous relevance over time, something that's not purely temporal. Perhaps the singular greatness of Shakespeare is that he wrote about the human condition and all of its multifarious predicaments with such insight that his plays are still apposite to this very day. The ability to manage that amid all the other demands of succeeding as a playwright is, in a word, daunting.

Among the very few plays that manage to sustain relevance, we see something we refer to as a "revival," a bringing back to life. In a different vein, big Broadway musicals are revived again and again not because they're great art or even relevant but because they are munificent cash cows, and they make people forget the larger world for a few hours in a darkened theater. But a play is a different thing. For a play to be brought back again and again, it likely needs to be germane to the present. Producers and directors need to be able to say that, yes, we really need to see that work again, with new actors and maybe on new stages because it seems important to do it and teaches us something we need to know about our present circumstances.

I offer as a case in point Lorraine Hansberry's play, A Raisin in the Sun. It premiered on Broadway in 1959 with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee in the leading roles and was revived on Broadway twice: once...

To continue reading