Word of Mouth

La Turista

by Sam Shepard
American Place Theater

La Turista by Sam Shepard, in a dazzling production at the American Place Theater, is a work of superlative interest. The reviewers have not been invited to submit an evaluation of the play. It is merely there, for a month, appearing for the membership of the American Place and for those who find their way to it. I have no knowledge of the intentions and feelings about the reviewers of those responsible for this play; I went to it of my own free will and write about it under no duress and without asking permission. Still, it appears logical that when a play invites the press it is making a sort of plea or demand that the reviewer, under his contractual obligations to his publication, offer some comment about what he has seen. He may not have wished to go and he may not wish to write; he is a captive, arbitrarily condemned to the formation of an opinion. The production, by its foolhardy solicitations, condemns itself to the recognition of the opinions. Play and critic, thereby, become linked like suspect and detective.

The night I saw La Turista the American Place audience was, for the most part, utterly depressing; middle-aged, middle class, and rather aggressively indifferent: a dead weight of alligators, dozing and grunting before muddily sliding away. It felt like nothing so much as those same old evenings in our theater, evenings with the reviewers spaced about like stop signs. A further step in the liberation of the theater became evident: not only must the reviewers be freed of their obligation to go to a play, but the audience they have created, their bent twigs, should not be the object of special encouragement. It is hard to imagine anyone acting under the influence of the inchoate homilies of, for instance, Richard Watts who looks after our local and national morals for us, but, even in the case of La Turista, one could imagine a line slowly forming outside some box office and the people whispering, “Walter Kerr sort of liked it a little, and you know he never likes anything.” But, indeed, what good does it do a man to go to see something he won’t like just because the reviewers have told him to do so? He would be better off at home. Our new American theater cannot play to the old audience; it must have a new one.

IN “LA TURISTA” there is the poignant meeting on some pure level of understanding of playwright, director, and actor: the sort of unity that makes the Royal Shakespeare’s production of The Homecoming so rare. Jacques Levy, the director, is a theatrical talent of unremitting inspiration. The actors are all first-rate, but in Sam Waterston the play has a young actor of such versatility and charm that one hardly knows how to express the degree of his talents. With this play, the promise of the lofts of off-off Broadway, the dedication and independence, come to the most …

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Letters

Critics June 1, 1967