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Sam Shepard double bill: ‘The Unseen Hand’, ‘Killer’s Head’
next up in Odyssey’s 50th Anniversary ‘Circa ’69’ season
LOS ANGELES (REVISED Jan, 8, 2020) — What happens when 1880 Western bandits are brought back to life in Azusa, CA by a space alien? Sam Shepard’s The Unseen Hand joins Odyssey Theatre Ensemble‘s 50th Anniversary “Circa ’69” Season of significant and adventurous plays that premiered around the time of the company’s inception, coupled with Shepard’s gritty and audacious Killer’s Head. Longtime Shepard collaborator Darrell Larson directs both plays for a Jan. 25 opening at the Odyssey Theatre in West L.A., where performances will continue through March 8.
E.T. meets the Old West in The Unseen Hand, Shepard’s hilarious yet foreboding sci-fi Western about a trio of legendary cowboys resurrected to help a mutant extraterrestrial free his people from slavery. Carl Weintraub (Air Force One, Beverly Hills Cop, founder/artistic director We Tell Stories) stars as Blue, a 120-year-old ex-cowboy now living in a ’51 Chevy convertible by the side of the highway. Chris Payne Gilbert (All My Sons at the Geffen, Neflix’s Lucifer, Amazon’s Bosch) and Jordan Morgan (Macbeth at Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, Lifetime TV movie Blood Brothers) play Sycamore and Cisco, Blue’s long-dead outlaw brothers summoned back to life. Recent UCLA graduate Matt Curtin is Willie the Space Freak — come to earth to find salvation for his race. And Andrew Morrison (All My Sons at Pacific Resident Theatre, feature film Creatures of Necessity) plays an Azusa cheerleader bullied by his peers for not being “manly” enough.
“Sam was always prescient, and The Unseen Hand has transformed over the decades,” says Larson. “We live in a society that’s always been heavily influenced by the Western mythos. This is a crazy comedy with space freaks, cowboys, cheerleaders and super-fun technical elements. It plays like a cartoon — but it’s also tragic. Underneath, it’s about toxic masculinity and the havoc it causes, and about trying to save the world. Sam explores these ideas deftly and profoundly.”
The Unseen Hand premiered off-off-Broadway at La Mama ETC on December 26, 1969. Revivals include a production in 1970 at New York’s Astor Place Theater; in 1977 at New York’s Perry Street Theater; and at La Mama in 1982, where The New York Times called it “a sixpack of vintage Shepard… The play is not really extraterrestrial. It is about the depressive state right here on earth, on the loss of innocence and individuality and other matters that have troubled Mr. Shepard since he first began his folklorist investigation of the decline of the American West (and East). The Morphan brothers are outlaws as heroes… For all their shooting and shouting, they are bonded together in a love of the pioneer spirit.”
The evening also includes Killer’s Head, a murderer’s monologue delivered as he awaits electrocution, performed at the Odyssey by a rotating cast of actors (schedule subject to change): Steve Howey (Jan. 25-26), Chris Payne Gilbert (Jan. 31-Feb. 2), Dermot Mulroney (Feb 7-9, Feb. 14-16), Magnus Jackson Diehl (Feb. 20-23), Jeff Kober (Feb. 28-March 1), Darrell Larson (Feb. 5, March 4), Jonathan Medina (March 6-8).
Killer’s Head premiered at New York’s American Place Theatre in 1975, starring a then-unknown Richard Gere. In his New York Times review, Clive Barnes wrote that the ten-minute piece “confirm[s] the impression that Mr. Shepard is among the most original voices writing in the theater today.”
The Odyssey’s creative team includes set designer Song Yi Park, lighting designer Bosco Flanagan and costume designer Denise Blasor. Props are by Blasor and Rob Fox. Original music is composed by Mitch Greenhill, and sound design is by Greenhill and Bo Powell, who also associate produces. The assistant director is Ashlee Bell Caress and the stage manager is Jacob Price. Presented by Odyssey Theatre Ensemble under the leadership of artistic director Ron Sossi.
Sam Shepard, (1943 – 2017), was an American playwright and actor whose plays adroitly blend images of the American West, pop motifs, science fiction, and other elements of popular and youth culture. His settings are often a kind of nowhere, notionally grounded in the dusty heart of the vast American Plains. His characters are typically loners, drifters caught between a mythical past and the mechanized present; his work often concerns deeply troubled families. His career spanned half a century. He began his career as a playwright in New York in 1964 with the Theatre Genesis production of two one-act plays, Cowboys and The Rock Garden, at St. Mark’s Church-in-the Bowery. Their lack of conventional structure and the manic language of their long monologues offended critics — but Michael Smith of the Village Voice hailed them as “distinctly American” and “genuinely original,” declaring their author full of promise. By 1980, Mr. Shepard was the most produced playwright in America after Tennessee Williams. All together, he wrote over 45 plays, winning 13 Obie awards for writing and directing, as well as several books of short stories, essays and memoirs. Shepard received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film The Right Stuff. In 1986 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1992 he received the Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy. He was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1994. He received the PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award as a master American dramatist in 2009. New York magazine described Shepard as “the greatest American playwright of his generation.”
Darrell Larson has directed many Sam Shepard plays, including Action, The Sad Lament of Pecos Bill and Killer’s Head for the 1996-97 season of Shepard plays at the Signature Theater in New York; Los Angeles productions of Cowboy Mouth (with Ed Harris) and Mad Dog Blues, both at the Pilot, and The Unseen Hand at the Cast; and Sompatico at Florida Shakespeare Theater. Other L.A. directing credits include Murray Medick’s Are You Lookin’ with Ed Harris and Helen Shaver; Mednick’s Scar, also with Ed Harris; and Bob Dylan’s Tarantual, which Larson also adapted for the stage. In Nashville, he directed Steve Earle’s Karla, and in San Francisco, he directed Denis Johnson’s Psychos Never Dream. In NYC he directed Johnson’s Shoppers Carried By Escalators Into The Flames, with Michael Shannon, at the Vineyard Theatre and Adam Rapp’s Faster at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. He made his NYC acting and directing debut in Tom Strelich’s Dog Logic at American Place Theater. He directed and acted in Shakespeare’s Comedy Of Errors on Martha’s Vineyard and directed and adapted The Wizard Of Oz In Concert: Dreams Come True as a benefit for the Children’s Defense Fund at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. Darrell recently starred as “The Captain” in the Odyssey’s acclaimed production of Conor McPherson’s new version of The Dance of Death by August Strindberg.
Founded in 1969 when Ron Sossi decided to demonstrate that experiment-oriented theater could have populist appeal and be fiscally solvent while maintaining the highest artistic standards, the Odyssey continues to explore, produce and present works on the forefront of contemporary theater art in its three-theater complex in West Los Angeles. The 2019-20, 50th anniversary “Circa ’69” season is an exciting retrospective of seminal theater works that inspired the Odyssey at the time of its inception, a rich time of experimentation and exploration when the theatrical soil was fertile both here and abroad. Earlier productions in the season included Loot by Joe Orton, Fefu and Her Friends by María Irene Fornés and In Circles, a musical adaptation by Al Carmines of Gertrude Stein’s poem “A Circular Play.”
Performances of The Unseen Hand and Killer’s Head take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from Jan. 25 through March 8. Additional weeknight performances are scheduled on Wednesday, Feb. 5; Thursday, Feb. 20; and Wednesday, March 4, all at 8 p.m. There will also be three preview performances, on Wednesday, Jan. 22; Thursday, Jan. 23; and Friday, Jan. 24, all at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $32 to $37, except previews which are $10; discounts are available at select performances for seniors, students and patrons under 30; call theater for details. There will be three “Tix for $10” performances, on Friday, Jan. 31, Wednesday, Feb. 5 and Sunday, Feb. 16.
The third Friday of each month (Feb. 20) is “Wine Night”: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show. Post- performance discussions are set for Wednesday, Feb. 5 and Thursday, Feb. 20. Friday, Feb. 21 is “College Night” and includes a pre-performance student reception with themed catering as well as a post-performance discussion: $10 with promo code COLLEGE (student ID checked at door). Friday, Feb. 28 is “LGBTQ Night,” tickets are $20 with promo code LGBTQ.
The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to OdysseyTheatre.com.
Details for Calendar Listings
‘The Unseen Hand’ and ‘Killer’s Head’
The Unseen Hand and Killer’s Head — What happens when 1880 Western bandits are brought back to life in Azusa, CA by a space alien? E.T. meets the Old West in Sam Shepard’s The Unseen Hand, a hilarious yet foreboding sci-fi Western about a trio of legendary cowboys resurrected to help a mutant extraterrestrial free his people from slavery. Called “a sixpack of vintage Shepard” by The New York Times, Shepard’s 1969 one-act joins the Odyssey ‘s 50th Anniversary “Circa ’69” Season of significant and adventurous plays that premiered around the time of the company’s inception.
The evening also includes Shepard’s gritty and audacious Killer’s Head, a murderer’s monologue delivered as he awaits electrocution, performed by a rotating cast of actors (schedule subject to change): Steve Howey (Jan. 25-26), Chris Payne Gilbert (Jan. 31-Feb. 2), Dermot Mulroney (Feb 7-9, Feb. 14-16), Magnus Jackson Diehl (Feb. 20-23), Jeff Kober (Feb. 28-March 1), Darrell Larson (Feb. 5, March 4), Jonathan Medina (March 6-8).
• Written by Sam Shepard
• Directed by Darrell Larson
• The Unseen Hand stars Matt Curtin, Chris Payne Gilbert, Jordan Morgan, Andrew Morrison, Carl Weintraub
• Killer’s Head features a rotating cast of actors (schedule subject to change): Steve Howey (Jan. 25-26), Chris Payne Gilbert (Jan. 31-Feb. 2), Dermot Mulroney (Feb 7-9, Feb. 14-16), Magnus Jackson Diehl (Feb. 20-23), Jeff Kober (Feb. 28-March 1), Darrell Larson (Feb. 5, March 4), Jonathan Medina (March 6-8)
• Presented by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Ron Sossi Artistic Director
Previews: Jan 22 – Jan. 24
Performances: Jan 24 – March 8
• Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: Jan 22 (preview), Feb. 5** and March 4 ONLY
• Thursday at 8 p.m.: Jan. 23 (preview) and Feb 20** ONLY
• Friday at 8 p.m.: Jan. 24 (preview), 31; Feb, 7, 14, 21*†, 28††; March 6
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Jan. 25 (opening); Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; March 7
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: Jan. 26; Feb. 2, 9, 16, 23; March 1, 8
*The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.
**Post-performance discussions on Wednesday, Feb. 5 and Thursday, Feb. 20
† Friday, Feb. 21 is “College Night” and includes a pre-performance student reception with themed catering as well as a post-performance discussion. $10 tickets with promo code COLLEGE (student ID checked at door)
††Friday, Feb. 28 is “LGBTQ Night”: $20 tickets with promo code LGBTQ.
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
• (310) 477-2055 ext. 2 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com
• Visit us on facebook: www.facebook.com/OdysseyTheatre
• Follow us on twitter: @OdysseyTheatre_ and instagram: @odysseytheatre
• Performances: $32-$37
• Previews: $10
• “Tix for $10” available Friday, Jan. 31, Wednesday, Feb. 5 and Sunday, Feb. 16
• Additional discounted tickets available at select performances for seniors, students and patrons under 30; call theater for details.