When Roscoe, a 65-year-old Cervantes scholar, runs off with a young woman named Sally, he decides to stay a while in her family home. Soon he discovers that Sally’s house—once inhabited by James Dean; perched precariously over the San Fernando valley—is filled with secrets, sadness, and haunted women who cannot leave themselves or anyone else in peace. From Lucy, Sally’s suspicious sister, to Mable, their Shakespeare-quoting invalid mother, to Elizabeth, Mable’s lovely and mysteriously mute nurse, the forces of the house conspire to make Roscoe question his assumptions about everything. As scars and histories are revealed, Shepard shows, as only he can, what happens when the secrets simmering within a family boil over. Heartless masterfully explores the irrevocability of our pasts—and the possibility of life begun anew.
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Sam Shepard was the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of more than fifty-five plays and three story collections. As an actor, he appeared in more than sixty films, and received an Oscar nomination in 1984 for The Right Stuff. He was a finalist for the W. H. Smith Literary Award for his story collection Great Dream of Heaven. In 2012 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, received the Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy, and was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. He died in 2017.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
All stage directions are from the actor’s POV toward audience. Simple set—black surround—bare-stage feel except for some stark furniture: single bed mid-stage left, placed horizontal; foot of bed facing stage left. Another single bed mid-stage right, placed vertically to audience; head of bed facing upstage. Between the beds, downstage center, is a round glass- topped table with two white metal patio chairs placed opposite each other, on either side of the table, left and right. The sense of the set is that it’s essentially an outdoor patio with the two beds receding into nebulous interior territory. The whole visual arrangement is framed by tall palm trees. Extreme downstage left, looming out into the audience like a ship’s prow, is a raised “lookout point” that drops off clifflike into a black void. The upstage area sweeps slightly uphill, then drops off radically into another black void. The extreme upstage edge is raised high enough so that actors can leap off it and disappear into some sort of unseen netting or, conversely, make sudden appearances into the playing area.
As lights go to black, a woman’s (mable’s) piercing voice is heard screaming someone’s name.
mable’s voice: (Screaming, offstage right.) ELIZABETH!!!
(Lights snap up bright. Two figures appear. roscoe, a man, mid-sixties, sits up fast in the stage right bed, facing the audience. At the same time, in stage left bed, sally, a woman in her early thirties, rolls over so her back is to audience, wrapping herself tightly in a sheet, mummy style. Pause. roscoe gets out of his bed quickly and stands, facing sally’s bed. He wears green boxer shorts, a plain white T-shirt, and white socks.)
roscoe: (Disoriented.) Sally?
(roscoe moves slightly toward her bed, then stops.)
sally: (Keeping her back to audience.) I’m sleeping.
roscoe: Did you scream?
roscoe: I thought I heard a scream.
sally: Go walk your dog.
(roscoe turns, moves toward stage right—stops—turns back toward sally, confused.)
roscoe: When I woke up I couldn’t figure out where the windows were. I thought I was still in some motel somewhere—
sally: (Without turning.) You were mistaken.
(roscoe turns again and exits stage right. sally immediately rolls toward audience on roscoe’s exit. She sits up in her bed, naked from waist up. A long surgical scar snakes down from between her collarbones to her navel—bright pink and very prominent. She looks around the space and toward stage right, then stands, wearing white underwear, grabs a gray linen blouse, throws it on, buttons it partially while crossing downstage to stage left chair at table. She sits in chair, facing audience directly, pulls her legs up, wrapping her arms around her shins, and stares out across audience, as though seeing something in distance. Pause. Then the voice of roscoe offstage right, speaking to his dog in high-pitched falsetto. No sounds of dog whatever. sally just listens—looks out over audience.)
roscoe’s voice: (To dog—off right.) Shall we take a walk? What do you think? A little walk? Piss and poop? Tinkle, tinkle. Yes? Shall we go? Oh—happy dog! Happy, happy, happy dog! Here we go! Poop and piss! Jumping, jumping! Happy, happy, happy, happy dog! Let’s go—here we go! Yes—happy, happy, happy, happy—
(roscoe’s voice fades away off right. Pause. sally just sits and stares out in the same posture. She speaks calmly to some invisible partner in same direction as audience.)
sally: You should’ve told me it was going to be like this. You could’ve warned me. ’Course, how would you know? You were the same as me. Right? Young. Babies, really. What were we then—ten? Eleven? I forget. How could we know what was up ahead? (Pause.) I’m glad you’re still around, though—some part of you. I’m glad— (Stops.) You have to stop visiting me, though, in the middle of the night. I can’t— I have to get some sleep. You understand? Some peace. I can’t be dealing with—
(lucy, sally’s older sister, enters from stage left. lucy is dressed very drably in a dark cardigan sweater, a knee-length skirt, and flat shoes. She carries a metal tray in both hands with syringes, bottles, cotton balls, alcohol, etc. lucy stops when she sees sally sitting there. sally ignores her, keeps staring out.)
lucy: You’re up early.
(sally holds posture, ignores her.)
Have you taken your pills, “Sunshine”?
(No response from sally.)
Did you have your orange juice? Vitamin D?
(No response from sally.)
Sally, what are we going to do with you?
sally: (Holding posture.) Who’s “we”?
(lucy exhales, crosses to table, sets down medicine tray, and sits in opposite chair, stage right. sally remains standing still, staring straight ahead. lucy goes about her daily routine of filling syringes with various serums, medicines—flicking the bottles expertly as she speaks to sally.)
lucy: (As she works.) Did you do anything domestic this morning—like make coffee, flip an egg—?
(sally shakes her head.)
How ’bout your new friend—what’s his name?
lucy: How ’bout Roscoe. He looks like the “rise and shine” type. Did Roscoe put any coffee on?
(sally hunches her shoulders.)
I can smell something warm and nutty—
sally: Must’ve, then.
lucy: We’re just sociable as hell this morning, aren’t we?
lucy: Don’t apologize.
(Long pause. sally remains in her posture, lucy continues her work.)
Did you happen to hear a scream, earlier?
(sally slowly turns her head toward lucy and stares at her.)
lucy: A scream. High-pitched—piercing. Nightmarish.
(sally turns away from her, back to original posture.)
sally: Must’ve been Mable.
lucy: Mom doesn’t scream. She moans.
sally: She used to scream.
lucy: That was way back.
sally: Yeah—she’s been screaming for decades.
lucy: I wouldn’t say that, exactly.
sally: What would you say?
lucy: Well—of course she screamed back when she fell out of that tree.
lucy: But that was a long time ago when Whitmore left her. You weren’t even around.
sally: I was here. Right here. When you brought her back in pieces. She was screaming then.
lucy: Well—she was in terrible pain.
sally: The police came to the door.
lucy: I don’t remember that.
sally: Of course you don’t.
(Long pause where the two of them just sit there in silence.)
lucy: Screaming, I mean.
sally: Screaming neighbors.
lucy: Domestic dispute or something.
sally: I’ve never seen the neighbors, have you?
sally: I’ve seen their cars. Their gardeners.
lucy: Who could’ve been screaming, then?
sally: This is L.A. People scream all the time.
lucy: What happened to your friend? “Boscoe,” was it?
sally: No. Not “whatever.” That’s his name—Roscoe. How would you like it if somebody called you “Juicy” instead of Lucy?
lucy: Sally, for Christ’s sake! It’s so much fun trying to have a conversation with you!
lucy: (Short pause.) Where is your friend—Roscoe? (Exaggerating name.)
sally: Walking his dog. (Exaggerating “dog.”)
lucy: (Pause.) Oh—he’s got a dog? That changes my opinion of him.
sally: Why’s that?
lucy: He’s the one who just recently left his wife and children, isn’t he? Ran off?
lucy: Well, he must be looking for a replacement, then.
sally: With the dog?
sally: The dog replaces the children?
lucy: I’m not—
sally: That’s deep, Lucy. That’s really deep. Did you just come up with that on your own?
(sally gets up suddenly, crosses upstage, gets into her bed, and wraps herself up tightly in sheet, as before, then turns her back on lucy. lucy stands, gathering her tray together.)
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