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Time Out Theater Review: "Heartless"

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Celebrated playwright Sam Shepard returns to the New York boards with his latest work, called "Heartless." Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following review.

It’s hard to believe that Sam Shepard has been writing for the American theater for nearly half a century. But it’s true: the cowboy playwright behind "True West," "Buried Child" and other modern classics started out in the early ’60s in the East Village.

His latest work, a glum, existential puzzle called "Heartless," almost feels like a return to his early days of avant-garde experiments. Or, if you want to be less charitable, it’s as if Shepard were trying to write an Edward Albee play. As in your typical Albee, there’s a bitter, articulate matriarch and existential head games played on a hapless houseguest among other surreal flourishes.

In a roomy, gloomy house overlooking the Los Angeles grid, we get to know the members of a strange family of women. There's the bratty, brooding Sally, played by Julianne Nicholson, who has a long scar down her chest where she had a heart transplant as a child. Sally’s spinsterish sister, Lucy, played by the superb, intense Jenny Bacon, clumps around the house resentfully. Their batty, wheelchair bound mother, grandly incarnated by Lois Smith, is pushed around by the mostly mute Betty Gilpin.

Caught in this gothic web is Gary Cole’s literature professor Roscoe, who has left his wife and is crashing at the house.

It’s a credit to the handsome, spooky production, evocatively staged by Daniel Aukin that the script’s thinness and shagginess doesn’t really irritate until the second act.

Heartless is a mysterious play peppered with clues but one has little desire to put them together. Instead, the self-consciously poetic narrative feels like cryptic vamping for its own sake. The result is a piece lacking most major organs, not just the blood-pumping one.

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