Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Tooth of Crime - Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard (1943 -)

Well, what's not to love about a post-apocalyptic rock fantasy that confronts the temporal nature of celebrity, mortality and rock and roll ?

The Tooth of Crime takes place at an unspecified deserted wasteland in the not too distant future after some form of Armageddon has taken place leaving a fractured society ruled by rock-and-roll gangs and policed by a system of referees following an esoteric rule system of points and penalties. "The Game" a form of rock-violence where the "Markers", or combatants, fight to secure territory by out singing each other is slowly evolving into a new game with new rules, indecipherable to the aging protagonist Hoss.

At one point Hoss was the undisputed champion of the Markers, but now age has caught Hoss in a maelstrom of self-doubt and as he awaits the arrival of whatever upstart is inevitably coming to take his place he fantasizes about hiding away somewhere, hanging up the towel and living out the rest of his days in quiet obscurity.

"...All the heroes is dyin' like flies they say it's a sign a' the times
And everybody's walkin' asleep eyes open - eyes open
So here's another sleep-walkin' dream
A livin' talkin' show of the way thing seem
I used to believe in rhythm and blues
Always wore my blue suede shoes
Now everything I do goes down in doubt
But sometimes in the blackest night I can see a little light
That's the only thin that keeps me rockin'- keeps me rockin'..."

As Hoss prances around screaming profanity at everyone, his rival can be seen slowly approaching in the distance. Hoss' doubt is waylaid for the time being as he revs himself up with testosterone and illicit substances, he's ready for a kill, he's ready to make his move, he can tear anyone limb from limb (with his lyrics?) ...but then the doubt begins to surface again...and as he oscillates between machismo and uncertainty he arrives at a plateau of self loathing. "...Maybe so. Maybe I am a loser. Maybe we're all losers. I don't care no more...I just wanna back off for a while. I can't think straight. I need a change. A vacation or something..."

At this point Hoss' character development is erratic and somewhat dizzying, he is a confident rock hero at one moment and a lethargic old man at the next, after a few too many songs and endless monologues we are ready to meet the illustrious nemesis. As Act I finally comes to a close he learns his rival, Crow, has finally arrived and Hoss decides to take a nap and gear up for the imminent battle.

Act II opens with a young swaggish Crow and a refreshed and somewhat rejuvenated Hoss circling around sizing each other up. They have decided to fight with shivs, but at the last moment call in a four piece band and a ref and decide to sing it out. As the ref warms up, doing yoga moves and stretching the cast ensemble begins mooning the audience and doing things that seem irrelevant and distracting.  Crow begins the first round singing an alleged story about Hoss and his humble beginnings. The scoring system seems somewhat indecipherable but apparently is based on getting a rise out of the other in a fight that seems somewhat one-sided, Crow is given infinitely more monologue space, the ref calls a TKO for Crow who is now the champion of... Nevada?

Hoss enraged by the biased calling shoots the ref and realizing his style is too old, he begs Crow to teach him the new style...(at some point Hoss' assistant Becky comes in and sort of goes to third base with herself while begging herself not if someone else is in control of her hands...a flashback of Hoss? No idea...) but after thoughtful deliberation, realizes he is too old to learn and commits his last act of genuine individuality and shoots himself. At which point all his crew members crawl out of the woodwork and ask Crow if the old man finally did it, switching allegiance in less than a second.

Crow, rather than perceiving the prophetic lesson that the young will always grow old and inevitably be replaced, decides he isn't planning on filling Hoss' shoes, he's going to create new shoes and a new path for himself one so individualized it will never be challenged...the play ends with a lustrous solo from Crow who despite his swagger seems to realize this is all nothing but a game, he's won this hand but only grace will help him survive the next.

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