A tiny theater on the Lower East Side, a dedicated collection of dramaturges with a mandate to present vibrant theater, and a bewildering year-long slate of Sam Shepard productions — The Michael Chekhov Theater Company has set itself the lofty goal of performing Shepard’s entire forty-five play oeuvre. They begin this mammoth undertaking with the seedy 1993 Simpatico, a noir drama overflowing with alcohol fueled guilt and spiritual vacancy.
Inhabiting the underbelly of the dreary Californian desert and Kentucky’s horse racing world, these individuals have no morals, or find them far too late. Performed in repertory with the 1979 Pulitzer Prize winning Buried Child and the twisted backwoods Romeo-Juliet dysfunctional family tale, A Lie Of The Mind, this slate of productions squeezes audiences into MCTC’s tiny theater for alternating nights of Shepard’s ethereal, dark Americana.
Peter Picard battles amicably with businessman Carter’s descent (ascent?) from wealthy, cell phone-toting horse breeder to pathetic, guilt-ridden blood spot. Heather Anthony’s southern femme fatale injects life into the last third of Simpatico, figuring everything out early on, resigning herself to rotting dreams. A Lie Of The Mind is one of Shepard’s most difficult dramas and MCTC struggles with its frequent scene changes and sluggish pace. Nevertheless Thomas Francis Murphy’s masterful rendering of father Baylor and Curtis Nielsen’s physically guttural Jake rise to Shepard’s poetry.
Artistic Director Michael Horn’s undertaking is ambitious. If you respect the work of Shepard, and gutsy theater, make it over to MCTC’s ridiculously small space over the next twenty-two months.