La Turista was as inaccessible a play as I've come to expect from Sam Shepard...I was left with the feeling that I was drastically missing something...upon further research I find I am not alone and rather than being willfully obtuse and making no effort to be sympathetic to his writing style..I can shift some of the blame to Shepard himself. Because there is no context to this play it takes quite a bit of sleuthing about to begin to uncover any semblance of a coherent, meaningful plot. Visiting Shepard's website I found this completely unhelpful synopsis:
"Two-act play. A chronicle of the experiences of two unpleasant Americans, holed up in Mexico with ‘la turista’ (traveller’s diarrhea). Salem and Kent are two deeply unlikeable travelers, possessed of a characteristic combination of helplessness and arrogance, who are getting further and further out of their depth in a bleak and incoherent world. As the play proceeds, and their desperation grows, they enlist the help of increasingly weird strangers to purge themselves of their sickness."
...really? That's it? In a 1967 review by Helen Easton from the New York Review of Books, she says:
Although the play has power, I do not consider it a good play. However, the superb acting and the desire to see whether the second part would clarify the first part kept most of the audience in the theater. But from the snatches of conversation I heard on the way out, they remained mystified….
Mrs. Easton does her best to present in retrospect a coherent argument for the play, arguing it is a play about the American predicament with the Vietnam War...she presents a compelling argument making La Turista seem less incoherent and more structured...but in a response to her review she is reminded that Shepard's work is not the same genre as that of Ibsen, Miller or Williams and that constraining his work to a more conservative interpretation (ie. one that the audience can understand and derive meaning from) is not always the intention of the artist.
I was talking to my little brother, an abstract artist, the other day and realized I often don't allow art the freedom to breath. I demand that it conform to a certain literary dogma where metaphor and symbolism are allowed but they must be at least somewhat coherent. To have a play that refuses to engage the audience, constantly leaving them to guess and interpret, seems to be overly and unnecessarily frustrating.
And yet both Tongues and Savage Love were easier to digest because from the outset they are both so unlike a conventional play that there isn't the constant tension of trying to understand them. Tongues is a play about voice, Shepard says in a note at the beginning:
"The various voices are not so much intended to be caricatures as they are attitudes or impulses, constantly shifting and sliding into each other, sometimes abruptly, sometimes slowly, seemingly out of nowhere. Likewise the music is not intended to make comments on the voice but to support these changing impulses, to make environments for the voices to live in. The choices of instrumentation can be very open but I feel they should stay within the realm of percussion."
This sounds exactly like the type of play I would never want to see and the sort of play my little brother would love and appreciate, walking away with a profound understanding of the shared human experience... The "play" ends with these lines:
"Today the wind roared through the center of town.
Tonight I hear its voice.
Today the river lay wide open to the sun.
Tonight I hear it speaking.
Today the moon remained in the sky.
Tonight I feel it moving.
Today the people talked without speaking.
Tonight I can hear what they're saying.
Today the tree bloomed without a word.
Tonight I'm learning its language."
Savage Love is a compilation of love vignettes, "common poems of real and imagined moments in the spell of love." The "play" opens with a piece called "First Moment" describing the moment when you are caught in some banal, perfunctory act like going to the post office and you look up and see the person you were meant to love. Some of my favorite lines are:
"The first moment I saw you I knew I could love you if you could love me...I really just wanted to look at your eyes all the time. And you said Look at me with your eyes. Look at me with your eyes...And right away I had this feeling, Maybe you're lost until now. Maybe I'm lost until now."
His poems tend to seem stifled with the fear of vulnerability, never quite able to make the first move, afraid to expose too much too soon...and yet at the same time wishing to expose everything. I think "Beggar" is the best example of the tension inherent in vulnerability, it opens with the heartache of unrequited love, the speaker begs to just stand near the object of affection, or even just walk behind them for a little while
"Could you give me a small part of yourself
I'm only asking for the tiniest part
Just enough to get me from here to there
Could you give me something
Anything at all
I'll accept whatever it is
Could you just put your hand on my head
Could you brush against my arm
Could you just come near enough
So I could feel as though you might be able to hold me
Could you touch me with your voice
Blow your breath in my direction
Is it all right if I look straight into your face
Could I just walk behind you for a little while
Would you let me follow you at a distance"
As the piece ends the speaker tries to shift the neediness and vulnerability and instead put on a mantle of indifference and independence ending with the line "In fact I'm just wasting my time right now just talking to you." Intimacy is too dangerous, so the speaker drowns the feelings of love and cautiously picks up the pieces of a broken heart.
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