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Why America Doesn’t Work – Living in America Series

April 24, 2018

Plain talk from the great American playwright Sam Sheppard

We recently saw an Oregon Contemporary Theater production of Buried Child, the 1978 play about family dysfunction by the late American playwright and actor Sam Sheppard. In my ways it is a multi-layered statement about what’s wrong with America. In the program notes, Sheppard offers this view of the history of his country:

“I don’t know what the American Dream is. I do know it doesn’t work. Not only doesn’t it work, the myth of the American Dream has created extraordinary havoc. and it’s going to be our demise. . .this notion that not only were we given this land by God somehow, but that we’re entitled to do whatever we wanted to with it, regardless of the consequences, and reap all the fortunes out of the land, much to the detriment of everyone else. . .this rampant puritanical class of European colonialism. . .behind the whole thing is land-hungry Europeans wanting to dominate. The move westward was promoted by advertising, with words like ‘Free land’, ‘Manifest Destiny’. . .we always prefer fantasy over reality.”

With Buried Child, Sheppard found a way to articulate the failure of that dream, but he offers no closure.


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