Volume XIII, Number 1, Spring 2017

"Sam Shepard and Irish Theatre: Interchange, Influence, and Intertextual Links" by Mária Kurdi

Mária Kurdi is professor emerita in the Institute of English Studies at the University of Pécs, Hungary. Her main research areas are modern Irish literature and English-speaking drama. Her own books include Codes and Masks: Aspects of Identity in Contemporary Irish Plays in an Intercultural Context (Peter Lang, 2000), and Representations of Gender and Female Subjectivity in Contemporary Irish Drama by Women (Edwin Mellen Press, 2010). With Donald E. Morse and Csilla Bertha she co-edited the book Brian Friel’s Dramatic Artistry: “The Work Has Value”, published by Carysfort Press in 2006. In 2009 also Carysfort Press brought out her edited volume Literary and Cultural Relations: Ireland, Hungary, and Central and Eastern Europe. With Miriam Haughton she co-edited the collection Radical Contemporary Theatre Practices by Women in Ireland (Carysfort Press, 2015) and the 2014 issue of Irish Theatre International. Mária Kurdi has edited issues of the Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies on Brian Friel and Arthur Miller respectively. In 2015 she edited a collection of Hungarian essays to mark the centenary of Arthur Miller’s birth.

In her unfortunately last book, Mesterek árnyékában: Sam Shepard drámái és a hagyomány (In the Shadow of Masters: Sam Shepards’s Plays and Tradition, 2013) written in Hungarian, the principal Hungarian researcher of Sam Shepards’s work, Gabriella Varró included a substantial chapter about Shepard’s Irish connections and the many parallels with Beckett in the dramaturgy and character construction strategies of his plays (175-202).1 This part of Varró’s monograph along with her previously published articles on the subject the book chapter incorporates, provide a significant contribution to the ongoing international critical discourse on Beckett’s considerable influence on American playwrights, especially on Edward Albee in earlier times and on Sam Shepard more recently. If we place Varró’s discoveries in a wider context, with this she, as one of a handful of Hungarian scholars having done so till today, also contributes to the exploration of affinities, parallel themes and strategies as well as intertextual links between Irish and American theatre. She joins the critics inspired by the observation that intertextuality and modernist writing are significantly allied (see Allen 48) and open up new avenues for theatre studies too. Considering the significance of her work in this comparative field it is worthwhile to quote several passages from Varró’s relevant publications, which I am going to do in this essay in memory of her inspired research activities and results as a dedicated scholar of nineteenth and twentieth century American literature, modern drama in general, and Shepard’s dramatic achievement in particular.

At its beginning early in the last century, modern American theatre is well documented to have drawn inspiration from the work of Irish playwrights, companies and performers. In this regard Eugene O’Neill is a primary example, who was a young man during the time when the Dublin Abbey Theatre was on its first tour in the United States in 1911, and was one of the first audiences to watch J. M. Synge’s plays staged in New York. Synge’s considerable impact on O’Neill is discussed in an essay by Péter Egri, which surveys the oeuvre of O’Neill pointing to its changing accords with the Irish playwright’s work, for instance by looking at The Iceman Cometh in the concluding segment of his investigation:

A meaningful similarity is, of course, far from being an absolute identity. Whereas in The Well of the Saints the day-dreaming inclination of the beggars is counterpointed by the sobriety of all the other characters, in The Iceman Cometh all the figures are caught in their pipe dreams. […] The tragic pressure of O’Neill’s irony is more pronounced. […] Synge’s play implies the hope of the Irish Revival at the beginning of the century; O’Neill’s drama expresses the hopeless hope of humanity alienated from itself and tottering in the ruins of World War II. (268)

One might add here that Synge’s irony has its tragic undercurrent too; Synge was dismayed by the weakening of traditional humanity and solidarity in the circumstances of modernizing colonial Ireland. As a reverse process, according to Stephen Watt, the influence of O’Neill on Irish theatre, surprisingly in very recent works, is noticeable. In The Night Alive (2013), Watt claims, “[Conor] McPherson offers a variation on these longstanding themes of escape and exodus, steady employment and economic security, expanding the genre of melodrama O’Neill complicates in A Touch of the Poet (“The Irish Play on the New York Stage” 280). This interesting affinity might call attention to itself due partly to the fact that, while O’Neill is not so popular in the USA nowadays, there have been successful revivals of O’Neill’s play in Irish theatres during the last decade or so (Harrington, “Irish Theatre and the United States” 602).

In 2005 the Irish Theatrical Diaspora Series was launched by Irish scholars, with the aim to investigate the international journeys of Irish theatre in collections of essays based on conferences devoted to the examination of these journeys in countries with a sizable Irish diasporic population, including, naturally, the United States. Authors of the essays write mainly about the vivid reception of Irish drama, underscoring the mutually fruitful relationship between the two countries’ theatre life. In the first volume John P. Harrington writes about the 1911 tour of the Abbey in New York that

During the first Abbey company visit to America in 1911, the interesting points made in positive or negative criticism were that the national theatre of Ireland had chosen a narrow and difficult course, that it was very effective in it, and that it somehow was more real when it was less real. This interesting conception of the enterprise was much more provocative than most of the rhetoric of early Playboy riots in Dublin or in America. (“The Abbey in America: The Real Thing” 41)

To lay more emphasis on the positive aspects of the critical responses, Harrington quotes also O’Neill’s praise of the same Irish productions as eye-opening for him to capture what “real theatre” was like (“The Abbey in America: The Real Thing” 41). In a later volume of the scholarly series, an important aspect of the reception of Synge in the United States nearly a century later is highlighted. About the 2006 debut of DruidSynge, the Druid Theatre’s production of the cycle of all five plays by Synge in the USA José Lanters writes that “To a considerable extent, American theatre critics appeared to limit themselves in their responses to what they thought their audiences would know and expect” (38). Lanters concludes her article by saying that “DruidSynge in America revealed at least as much about American presuppositions about Irishness as it did about Druid’s interpretation of the plays of J.M. Synge” (45). The difference between a hundred years ago and now is notable. In twenty-first century USA Synge’s work seems to be measured against expectations about the lasting traits of Irish identity having been turned into a commodity travelling worldwide, although often disturbingly constructed on the basis of old and stale stereotypes.

With American drama and performance having reached a stage of maturity and international acclaim by the middle of the last century, an increasing number of Irish playwrights acknowledged the influence of American theatre on their work. Major Irish playwright Brian Friel’s early play A Doubtful Paradise (1960, unpublished) is indebted to Arthur Miller: its central father character, named Willie Logue is lost in illusions like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. Besides, a decisive change in Friel’s career as a writer was due to his stay at the Tyrone Gutherie Centre in Minneapolis for a considerable time, where he studied American theatre as well as Gutherie’s directing methods. About the formative and lasting impact of his American experiences on his active interest in the theatre Friel said:

I learned a great deal about the iron discipline of theatre, and I discovered a dedication and a nobility and a selflessness that one associates with a theoretical priesthood. But much more important than all these, those months in America gave me a sense of liberation – remember, this was my first parole from inbred claustrophobic Ireland – and that sense of liberation conferred on me a valuable self-confidence and a necessary perspective so that the first play I wrote immediately after I came home, Philadelphia, Here I Come!, was a lot more assured than anything I had attempted before. (41-42)

Regarding other American playwrights, Tennessee Williams’s influence was acknowledged by Irish author Marina Carr, among others. In an interview Carr says that her use of the narrator character in The Mai carries a response “to Friel [and his Dancing at Lughnasa] as well as to Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie” (Kurdi, “A Talk with Irish Playwright Marina Carr” 97). A younger playwright, Daragh Carville refers to the equal impact of contemporary Irish, English, and American dramatists on his work: “Actually, at the moment Martin Lynch and myself are trying to put together a kind of Association of Northern Irish Playwrights, […].There are ideas common between us, but I must say that in terms of influence, the people I am influenced by are still, you know, Pinter, Murphy, Parker, David Mamet and Sam Shepard” (Kurdi, “A Talk with Daragh Carville” 233).

Moving the focus to Shepard, it is conspicuous that Beckett and American theatre in general and this playwright in particular form a vast territory of study with many possible paths and ramifications. In her work on Shepard Varró discusses manifestations of the subtle ways in which Beckett had been one of Shepard’s masters besides Shakespeare and Miller (“Kicking a Dead Horse” 46). Shepard’s Kicking a Dead Horse premièred in Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 2007, which choice Varró comments on as follows: “Even the fact that Shepard opted for an Irish showing first was attributed to his intended but nonetheless secreted reason to pay tribute to Beckett with this piece. His selection of Stephen Rea, Ireland’s foremost actor-talent for Hobart’s part further strengthened the Beckettain overtones the play obviously has/hides” (“Kicking a Dead Horse” 51). A notable review of the Dublin première of Shepard’s drama came from renowned Irish theatre critic Fintan O’Toole, published in The Irish Times and titled very tellingly “A nod from one Sam to another.” Recalling their talks in the review O’Toole quotes Shepard a good deal about his experiences related to Beckett, for instance what the American playwright said about his feelings after having read Godot and Endgame early in his career: “the confrontation with the script was something that overwhelmed me, I’d never seen anything like this. I hadn’t realised you could do that sort of thing. That’s the thing about Beckett that’s so extraordinary. Not that you want to write like him (because nobody can), but that what he does is to offer up an entirely new perspective: You can do anything.” Indeed, Shepard’s best works do many things while breaking new paths in form. Besides its conspicuously Beckettian overtones Kicking a Dead Horse, in O’Toole’s view, can inspire a political interpretation: “Shepard is wary of anyone seeing the new play as a political treatise and his stage directions have a wonderfully deadpan warning against overly metaphorical readings of its would-be cowboy and his eponymous expired equine […] But the play’s frantic comedy is undoubtedly informed by Bush and the Iraq war.”

Varró’s exploration of Beckett’s and Shepard’s cross-cultural “dialogue” includes the depiction of the artistic context with observations about “the American playwright’s growing interest in Irish folklore, his fascination with Irish actors and acting styles” (Varró, “Versions of the Clown” 205). One of Varró’s main points about the Beckettian influence on Shepard underscores the comparability of the clown figure in Waiting for Godot and Kicking a Dead Horse. As the hypothesis of her comparative analysis of Godot and Kicking, Varró contends that “Shepard’s interest in clowning came as a side effect of his interest in Irish theatre and drama, and it was directly through Godot and Beckett, as well as the actor Stephen Rea, that he discovered the cliché of the clown and the circus genre for his dramatic purposes” (“Versions of the Clown” 215). In both plays, Varró goes on, the “clown-tramp” is a central character paradigm, which has its roots in international popular culture, Irish folklore and classical Irish drama, with Boyle and Joxer in O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock and Synge’s beggars in The Well of the Saints as antecedents of Beckett’s tragicomic couple (“Versions of the Clown” 208-09, Mesterek 182).

While Beckett stages a pair of clown-characters, Gogo and Didi, in Shepard’s play Hobart Struther is the single character on stage, whose repeated actions, Varró writes, especially “his occasional staring into the ditch he is digging for his dead horse—truly reverberate from the circus clown, and eventually mirror Estragon’s and Vladimir’s similar routines with hats and boots” (“Versions of the Clown” 211). Relying also on other scholars’ observations, Varró widens the scope of Beckettian resonances in Kicking a Dead Horse:

The motifs of the grave-digging, the absurdity of the too-small grave, the extended internal monologue have been likened by Patrick Lonergan to the inverse of Beckett’s Happy Days, while the unmoving figure of the horse has been interpreted by others as taking on a force quite similar to the tree in Godot. The circular quality of Hobart’s monologue might find parallels in Endgame, and Struther also shares his existentialist weltanschauung with other lonely figures of the absurd. (“Kicking a Dead Horse” 50-51)

Elsewhere Varró adds that “Struthers’s recurring practices―his extended gaze at the audience, his antics with the binoculars” evoke Endgame” (“Versions of the Clown” 211). Another play by Beckett worth considering in a more extended discussion of the lonely character on stage and the absurdity of his slapstick movements might be Act Without Words I, which is a mime from 1956. The dramatic subgenre of the monologue could also be the point of departure for a further study of affinities between Kicking a Dead Horse and Irish theatre and its potential for self-reference. In the latter there has been an uncommon renaissance of the monologue form on stage after Beckett’s plays like Krapp’s Last Tape, Not I and Ohio Impromptu and Brian Friel’s Faith Healer (1979). It is hardly accidental that Irish playwright Conor McPherson, author of several monologue plays has written the introduction to the volume of Sam Shepard’s one-act plays (see Watt, “Sam Shepard, Irish Playwright” 241).

In her analysis of the similarities in dramatic style, Varró emphasizes the modern, close to postmodern features that both Godot and Kicking a Dead Horse demonstrate, for instance the grotesque nature of the protagonists’ actions (Mesterek árnyékában 183). Also, she explores the unmistakably self-referential character of the two plays deriving mainly from the exaggerated clown performance they stage. The clown, Varró claims, is “the very metaphor for the performer: made up, dressed in costumes, with characteristic movements and antics, acting out a prescribed script. It is then no surprise that a figure so profoundly intertwined with the world of acting has indeed evolved as a central theatrical archetype” (“Versions of the Clown” 206). Besides the self-referentiality Kicking a Dead Horse shares with Godot, Varró finds that a specific feature of both Beckett’s and Shepard’s plays is that the protagonists represent a self-portrait of the artist, marked by irony and self-mockery. Early in Godot Vladimir says to Estragon: “You should have been a poet.” Estragon responds: I was (Gesture towards his rags.) Isn’t that obvious?” (9). Beckett, of course, started his career as a poet, which has its obvious (if not ragged) trace in the lyrically charged language of his plays, Godot no exception. Compared with this covert reference to the figure of the artist “Hobart Struther is unique in the sequence of Shepard’s characters, because he is openly made to act, look and sound like the author himself. Struther is the typical Shepardian alter-ego, the author’s well-known double, engaged in conversation with himself” (Varró, “Kicking a Dead Horse” 47). Moreover, the protagonist’s resemblance to the author in Kicking extends beyond mere externals. Hobart Struther’s persistent struggle with the carcass of his horse, the one-time significant but by now dead icon of the American West reflects, according to Varró, “Shepard’s almost obsessive anxiety about lost ideals and about the diminishing chances for locating and upholding the genuine for inspection. The endlessly repeated word ‘authenticity’ becomes its own subversive echo in the play, whose validity is ironically undermined by the repetitive context it is introduced in” (“Kicking a Dead Horse” 49). Thus the strategic clown figure, Varró emphasizes, gains the role of social criticism by awakening the audience to the ugly wrongs of the world in which they live (Mesterek árnyékában 196, 202).

While Shepard drew inspiration from Irish theatre, his work became a source of influence for some pieces of Irish drama. By comic re-examining and subverting national images and myths Shepard’s work can be regarded as the predecessor of especially one contemporary Irish play, The Lonesome West (1996) by London-based Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. The drama in which Shepard is most deeply concerned with the American West is, undeniably, True West (1980). This play, Varró stresses, reflects Shepard’s “instinctive passion for slapstick, the characteristically physical knockabout type of comedy,” here present in “the tragicomic violence between Lee and Austin” (“Versions of the Clown” 216). Whether due to a consciously absorbed influence or not, there are notable intertextual links between Shepard’s True West and The Lonesome West by McDonagh. The latter takes its title from Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, where in act 1 the publican, Michael James uses the phrase “lonesome west.” McDonagh appropriates the same phrase to satirize the no longer functional national narrative about the West of Ireland, originating from the early post-independence period when “the image of the creative unity of the west, the vision of heroic rural life in the Gaeltacht […] served as metaphor of social cohesion” (Brown 92).

McDonagh’s ruthless mockery of the once idealized West of Ireland in The Lonesome West invites comparison with the critical representation of established myths about and popular icons of the American West. In a study of examining Irish and American nation-building myths and images beside each other Luke Gibbons claims that

For all their similarities as foundational myths — sharing agrarian ideals, an aversion to law and order and to the centralization of the state — it is the differences between them that are most striking. The wild west is an outpost of individualism, extolling the virtues of the self-made man that lie at the heart of the American dream. By contrast, the recourse to the west in Ireland is impelled by a search for community, a desire to escape the isolation of the self and to immerse oneself in the company of others. (13)

Shepard’s True West nullifies the existence of a true (authentic) American west, and represents the loss of individual freedom and heroism through the cowboy figure who no longer knows where he is heading for. McDonagh’s The Lonesome West subverts the myth of the Irish west as a source of communal values and personal virtues strongly connected with the traditions of Catholicism. Both Shepard’s True West and McDonagh’s The Lonesome West portray conflicts and violence between two brothers. Like Aston and Lee in Shepard McDonagh’s Coleman and Valene in The Lonesome West are complementary characters who break moral rules without shame: Coleman has killed their father for nothing and believes that “Me, probably straight to heaven I’ll go, even though I blew the head off poor dad. So long as I go confessing to it anyways. That’s the good thing about being Catholic” (53-54). On his part, Valene has forced his brother to sign his (Coleman’s) share of the inheritance over to him, this way buying his silence about the deed. While Aston and Lee embody the division within the American psyche, McDonagh’s brother figures throw satirical light on and even ridicule certain diehard attitudes, gut reactions and tensions within the Irish society the origins of which date back to colonial/postcolonial times.2

In the last decade of his life Shepard came into close contact with the institution of Irish theatre itself. Stephen Watt published an article enigmatically titled as “Sam Shepard, Irish Playwright” in 2015. The title provokes the obvious question: what can make a quintessentially American playwright like Shepard Irish (in the honorary sense), and not only influenced by Irish theatre? Watt mentions the important fact that in 2012 Shepard received an honorary degree at Trinity College Dublin, an exceptional thing for an American playwright (“Sam Shepard” 241). Further on, Watt unpacks a range of manifestations of the manifold connections between Shepard and Ireland that can confirm the odd-looking designation in the title of his essay. Firstly, referring to Emma Creedon’s study, he takes account of productions of Shepard’s plays with Kicking a Dead Horse (2007) and Ages of the Moon (2009) among them, which had their première by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Secondly, Watt says that “arguments for Shepard’s honorary inclusion in the pantheon of Irish dramatists almost always associate his writing with Beckett’s” (“Sam Shepard” 242), which subject has been thoroughly researched by Varró as well. After a detailed analysis of Shepard’s Ages of the Moon, Watt concludes that “the assertion of Sam Shepard as an Irish writer requires an assessment of affinity and a parallel investigation of such terms as ‘mythic’, ‘liminal’ and ‘local’ in his writing and that of a figure or figures central to the history of Irish drama, someone like Synge” (“Sam Shepard” 254). Given the high-ranking status of Synge in the field of modern drama, this sounds like a great acclaim of and tribute to the work of Shepard.

In 2013, Shepard was working with the Field Day Theatre Company and especially with theatre and film actor Stephen Rea in Northern Ireland, who commissioned his new play, A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations). The production became part of the City of Culture 2013 Programme in Derry, the border town between British Northern Ireland and independent Ireland. In an interview Clare Dwyer Hogg asked Shepard if the new work could be described as “a riff on Oedipus.” Bearing in mind the ever powerful hauntedness of the stage that Marvin Carlson has brought to our attention,3 Shepard’s answer is noteworthy:

I don’t believe in adaptation. I tried and I thought, enough, I don’t want to do an adaptation, I want to do a variation on. I want to do something with the emotions that the play is calling up: I want to take off on the feelings that the thing produces. If it doesn’t produce those feelings, it’s worthless, as far as I’m concerned. So in the case of Sophocles, he definitely calls up feelings. That’s what you’re adapting: the feelings, not form – the instincts and all the incredible things that are called up.

Shepard’s above view seems to coincide with the undeclared but practised approach of several contemporary Irish playwrights to drawing on certain classical and modern plays as intertextual material for their own work. A few examples will suffice: Friel subtitles his A Month in the Country (1992) as “after Turgenev,” his Hedda Gabler (2008) as “After Ibsen,” his Uncle Vanya (1998) as “a version of the play by Anton Chekhov” while Frank McGuinness calls his The Doll’s House (1997) “a new version” and Thomas Kilroy’s Christ Deliver Us! (2010) bears the subtitle “After Wedekind’s Spring Awakening,” etc.

Hopefully, the above explorations and array of examples suggest that numerous possible avenues can be identified for future research in the joint study of interfaces between American and Irish theatre in terms of comparable themes and strategies as well as exchanges in the field of performance praxis, which advance a better understanding of Shepard’s development as dramatist and also of the cross-cultural potential of Irish drama across generations. Scholars who undertake investigations of this kind are highly recommended to go back to and consider Varró’s ideas and findings about traces of the Irish and Beckettian influence in Shepard’s dramatic world along with other sources. Doing so, they will realize that in her tragically short life Gabriella Varró managed to leave a respectable amount of challenging and thought-provoking material for all researchers of the theatre to draw inspiration from, elaborate on further, and/or respond to critically.


Works Cited

  • Allen, Graham. 2011. Intertextuality. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove Press, 1954.
  • Brown, Terence. Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922-85. London: Fontana, 1990.
  • Egri, Péter. “Synge and O’Neill: Inspiration and Influence.” Literary Interrelations. Ireland, England and the World. Vol. 2. Ed. Heinz Kosok and Wolfgang Zach. Tübingen: Günter Narr Verlag, 1987. 261-68.
  • Friel, Brian. Essays, Diaries, Interviews: 1964-1999. Ed. Christopher Murray. London, New York: Faber, 1999.
  • Gibbons, Luke. Transformations in Irish Culture. Notre Dame, Indiana: U of Notre Dame P in association with Field Day, 1996.
  • Harrington, John P. “The Abbey in America: The Real Thing.” Irish Theatre on Tour. Ed. Nicholas Grene and Chris Morash. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2015. 35-50.
  • —-. “Irish Theatre and the United States.” The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre. Ed. Nicholas Grene, Chris Morash. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 593-606.
  • Hogg, Clare Dwyer. “Sam Shepard: ‘The good guy and bad guy stuff just doesn’t interest me’.” The Observer, 1 December 2013.
  • Kurdi, Mária. “ ‘Being from Northern Ireland … gives me a foot in both camps’: A Talk with Daragh Carville.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 9. 2 (2003): 223-41.
  • —-. “ ‘I was tired of the sentimental portrayal of mothers’: A Talk with Irish Playwright Marina Carr.” Modern Filológiai Közlemények 5.2 (2003): 94-100.
  • Lanters, José. “ ‘We’ll Be the Judges of That’: The Critical Reception of DruidSynge in he USA.” Irish Drama: Local and Global Perspectives. Ed. Nicholas Grene and Patrick Lonergan. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2015. 35-47.
  • McDonagh, Martin. The Lonesome West. London: Methuen, 1997.
  • Németh, Lenke. “‘A Theatrician of the Ethical’: A Critical Response to David Mamet’s Plays in Hungary.” Lifelong Search for Meaning: A Special Double Issue in Honor of Donald. E. Morse. Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 18.1-2 (2012): 371-85.
  • O’Toole, Fintan. “A nod from one Sam to another.” The Irish Times Febr. 24, 2007. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/a-nod-from-one-sam-to-another-1.1197044
  • Varró, Gabriella. “Kicking a Dead Horse: Burials and Resurrections.” British and American Studies 16 (2010): 45-54.
  • —-. Mesterek árnyékában: Sam Shepard drámái és a hagyomány (In the Shadow of Masters: Sam Shepard’s Plays and Tradition). Debrecen: Debreceni Egyetemi Kiadó, 2013.
  • —-. “Versions of the Clown in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Sam Shepard’s Kicking a Dead Horse.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 16. 1-2 (2010): 205-23.
  • Watt, Stephen. “Sam Shepard, Irish Playwright.” Irish Theatre in Transition: From the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-first Century. Ed. Donald E. Morse. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 241-56.
  • —-. “Outside Mallingar, A Moon for the Misbegotten and The Night Alive: The Irish Play on the New York Stage.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 22.2 (2016): 269-88.



1 The first version of this paper was written for the conference held in memory of Gabriella Varró in the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Debrecen, in September 2015, on the first anniversary of her tragic death together with her husband in a horrible accident on the road. I owe thanks to Csilla Bertha, who was kind enough to read the paper at the conference in my absence. Now, three years after the tragic event we still badly miss Gabriella, a fine Americanist from Hungarian acedemic life. The present essay is dedicated to honour her significant work on Sam Shepard. Since Shepard died in late July 2017, while I was expanding my original conference material into the present essay, I dedicate it also to the memory of this eminent, manysided American playwright of our time.

2 Another McDonagh play, the cryptic A Skull in Connemara (1997) shows resonances with David Mamet’s American Buffalo (1975). In her discussion of the concluding part of the Mamet play Lenke Németh points out that “In his mounting tension Teach beats Bobby [Dons’s gopher], but realizing the injury he offers to take him to hospital. At the same time, Don and Bobby apologize to each other for their mutual deception. Thus, despite their momentarily disrupted friendship, at the close of the play some sense of understanding is re-established between the criminals” (374). Likewise, in McDonagh’s The Lonesome West and A Skull in Connemara there are examples of lengthy apologizing, although more like an empty routine only. A Skull in Connemara (the title of which is from Lucky’s monologue in Godot) also has a simple minded “gopher”character, called Mairtin. This youngster works with Mick Dowd in the cemetary, who is supposed to have killed his wife. The third male character in the play, the policemanThomas Hanlon, a frustrated authority figure similar to Mamet’s Teach, smashes Mairtin on the head and then, unexpectedly, shows kindness to the lad and even caresses him while Mick suggests that Mairtin had better go to hospital.

3 See Marvin Carlson, The Haunted Stage: Theatre as Memory-Machine. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2001.