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Gerald Carpenter: Genesis West Plays Into Sam Shepard’s ‘Curse’

Curse of the Starving Class opens Friday at Center Stage Theater

Genesis West will open its new season Friday with a production of Sam Shepard’s funny and horrifying Curse of the Starving Class from 1978.

Sam Shepard
Sam Shepard

Maurice Lord is directing, and starring Amanda Berning, Ted Harmand, Brian Harwell, Tom Hinshaw, Merlin Huff, Meredith McMinn, Jeff Mills, Matt Tavianini and Tim Whitcomb.

Genesis West is billing Curse of the Starving Class as a “satire,” but satire implies a good deal of exaggeration, and Shepard would probably swear — colorfully — that his play adheres closely to life, and deals with a real family, though not necessarily his own life or his own family.

Like most of his celebrated tragicomedies of family life, Curse of the Starving Class features a drunken, feckless father, a bitter, defeated mother, an angry, rebellious daughter, and a son whose conflicting feelings about his father threaten to drive him mad. This is an absorbing theater piece, not a sociological or psychological tract, still less a touchy-feelie bit of family counseling.

Either you find these characters interesting or you don’t; most of us find them very interesting indeed, and the time we spend with them, however uneasy it makes us, well spent. We Americans are in a sentimental phase right now, as far as our vision of family life goes. Shepard’s plays make a marvelous antidote.

And even if Shepard were trying to dramatize his own family exactly, and to exorcise his own specific demons — which I doubt very much — we have it on the very best authority that he is probably mistaken. Cleaning out his father’s home after his death, Shepard found a letter addressed to him that said: “You may think there’s a great calamity that happened way back then, this so-called disaster between me and your mother. You might actually think it had something to do with you. But you’re dead wrong. Whatever took place between me and her was strictly personal. See you in my dreams.”

Curse of the Starving Class will play at 8 p.m. Nov. 5-6, Nov. 11-13 and Nov. 18- 20 at the Center Stage Theater, upstairs in Paseo Nuevo.

Tickets are $29 for general admission and $24 for students with I.D. Call 805.963.0408, or click here to buy tickets online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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