"The Unseen Hand" and "Killer's Head"

Critics

LemonMeter

93 %

Reviews: 14

Audience

LemonMeter

Reviews: 0

What happens when 1880 Western bandits are brought back to life in Azusa, CA by a space alien? E.T. meets the Old West in Sam Shepard’s The Unseen Hand, a hilarious yet foreboding sci-fi Western about a trio of legendary cowboys resurrected to help a mutant extraterrestrial free his people from slavery. Called “a sixpack of vintage Shepard” by The New York Times, Shepard’s 1969 one-act joins the Odyssey ‘s 50th Anniversary “Circa ’69” Season of significant and adventurous plays that premiered around the time of the company’s inception. The evening also includes Shepard's gritty and audacious Killer’s Head, a murderer’s monologue delivered as he awaits electrocution, performed by a rotating cast of actors (schedule subject to change): Steve Howey (Jan. 25-26), Chris Payne Gilbert (Jan. 31-Feb. 2), Dermot Mulroney (Feb 7-9, Feb. 14-16), Magnus Jackson Diehl (Feb. 20-23), Jeff Kober (Feb. 28-March 1), Darrell Larson (Feb. 5, March 4), Jonathan Medina (March 6-8).  Jan. 25 through March 8: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. with 3 additional weeknight performances on Wednesday, Feb. 5; Thursday, Feb. 20; and Wednesday, March 4, all at 8 p.m. College Night: Feb. 21; LGBTQ Night: Feb. 28. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025; For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to OdysseyTheatre.com.

Reviews

Elaine L. Mura - LA Splash

From a historical perspective which honors Sam Shepard’s early work in experimental theater, this double bill was intriguing. At the same time, both plays often prove confusing and difficult to follow. They clearly reflected the ethos of the hippie era – both comic and tragic – but times and styles change. Shepard’s early work might almost be seen as the male version of the feminist movement, in that he studies the world from the perspective of the macho guy and all that viewpoint entails. Aficionados of Shepard’s work, as well as drama history buffs, will clearly enjoy the double bill. However, early Shepard might also be seen as an acquired taste.

sweet-sour - Elaine Mura - Splash Magazines - ...read full review


Avatar

While it’s a pretty weird and ultimately hysterical romp with some seriously tour-de-force monologues by Willie and The Kid, director Larson says the play is, in part, about versions of toxic masculinity.

sweet - Sarah A. Spitz - Santa Monica Daily Press - ...read full review


Avatar

Often hilarious, the play takes pointed swipes at familiar Shepard stalking horses: cliched American ideals of cowboy masculinity corrupted by conformity and mediocrity.

sweet - Philip Brandes - LA Times - ...read full review


Shari Barrett

It's as if E.T. meets the Old West in THE UNSEEN HAND, Shepard's hilarious yet foreboding sci-fi Western about a trio of legendary cowboys resurrected to help a mutant extraterrestrial free his people from slavery. The title refers to what I can best describe as an invisible Big Brother entity who places his hand on the head of an enemy, then squeezes until the victim's pain becomes so unbearable it creates insanity... and then death. So who better to ride in to the rescue than hot, gun-toting heroes of the Old West?

sweet - Shari Barrett - Broadway World - ...read full review


Joan Alperin

When I think of the late Sam Shepard, his plays Fool for Love, True West, Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class usually come to mind. I was totally unfamiliar with Killer’s Head and The Unseen Hand now playing as a double bill at the Odyssey in celebration of the theater’s 50th anniversary.

Killer’s Head first premiered at New York’s American Place Theatre in 1975 starring a then unknown Richard Gere. As part of the Odyssey’s Circa ’69 season, this ten-minute rambling monologue stars Steve Howey and will be played by several other actors throughout the run, including Dermot Mulroney. A blindfolded man is strapped into an electric chair as he awaits execution. It took me a few minutes to understand what was happening, as the murderer goes on and on about buying a new pickup truck and horse breeding and training. How avant-garde is the writing? The most interesting part was at the end: after a jarring light and loud noise, the man dies. I have no idea why Shepard wrote it. It’s James Joyce, Ambrose Bierce, and Sam Beckett on an LSD trip. Only Shepard cultists need apply.

Luckily the second play on the bill is much more interesting. The Unseen Hand is E.T. meets the Old West in Azusa. Meet the 120-year-old Blue Morphan (the excellent Carl Weintraub) who has been living for 20 years in the back of his broken-down 1951 Chevy convertible on the side of a highway.

sweet - Joan Alperin - Stage and Cinema - ...read full review


Avatar

Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 1/30/20 – After half a century, the late Sam Shephard’s “The Unseen Hand” remains a one-act comedic exploration into science fiction fabulosity that jibes a little too well with today’s world. Written when Shephard was in his late twenties and first produced in December of 1969, the play is a crazed mixture of cowboys and aliens with a big dollop of resurrection and strange ritualistic behaviors. Directed by Darrell Larson as part of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary “Circa ’69” Season, the play feels anything but dated. In contrast, it sheds remarkable light on the divided soul of Donald Trump’s country, where the American dream of a real democracy is on the brink of what feels like disaster and devastation.

sweet - John Lavitt - The Hollywood Times - ...read full review


Avatar

Director Darrell Larson was a seminal figure in the development of L.A. as a first-rate theatre community and his return to our city after a long absence is in itself reason to celebrate.
He commits himself to wrangling Shepard’s room full of meth-out cats with both intelligence and passion, and while he can’t make the play accessible he certainly does make it very entertaining.

sweet - Ernest Kearney- The TVolution - ...read full review


Avatar

The plays, Killer’s Head and The Unseen Hand represent two of the strangest plays I have seen in a long while, reminding me somewhat of the highly incompetent filmmaker Ed Wood.

Yet we know Shepard is everything but incompetent. It’s just that these works seem both more like amalgams of ideas thrown together in a baggy mess of plot than fully conceived dramas, while nonetheless being totally fascinating.

sweet - Douglas Messerli - US Theater - ...read full review


Avatar

The Unseen Hand is about the impossibility of the past reconciling with the present, and the spiritual death of the American Dream. These typical Sam Shepard themes are boldly dramatized in the Odyssey’s production, which is noteworthy for its expert direction and flawless acting. This is little theater at its best.

sweet - Willard Manus - Total Theater - ...read full review


Stephen Fife

With its improvisatory energy and unpredictable shifts, Shepard’s play depends on the performers being on the same wavelength, and this error in casting throws it off balance, bringing in questions of sexual identity that don’t arise from anything in the script. The play also depends on a sense of danger to be effective, and there isn’t much of that here. This makes it feel like Shepard-Lite — amusing, entertaining, but not as consequential as it could be. Certainly not as much as I remember it being many years ago in Downtown NYC.

sweet-sour - Stephen Fife - Stage Raw - ...read full review


Avatar

Director Darrell Larson's personal friendship with Shepard and his own avid devotion to 'relevant' theatre informs these two short pieces in a more intimate way than other directors might present them.  Shepard's words and the unusual circumstances in both pieces speak to "modern" audiences of the sixties as well as to audiences here in the 21st Century.

sweet - Michael Sheehan - On Stage Los Angeles - ...read full review


Avatar

Sam Shepard's The Unseen Hand is a wildly imaginative, hilarious send-up of various tropes, ranging from spoofing different movie genre conventions – in particular, Westerns and sci fi – and exploration of American (mis)conceptions of masculinity. To execute this intricately written 90-minute-or-so one-acter requires a finely honed cast, and fortunately director Darrell Larson has a stellar ensemble of craftsmen who do justice to Shepard’s words and actions... Carl  Weintraub humorously plays Blue as a cross between David Strathairn, Walter Brennan in countless cowboy pictures and Walter Huston’s prospector in The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Weintraub’s amusing portrayal mines comic gold.

sweet - Ed Rampell - Hollywood Progressive - ...read full review


Avatar

Directed by Darrell Larson, the pair of plays that make up this Odyssey Theatre production these isn’t as well known as the other works from the portfolio of this respected American playwright. So it’s worth the time to see these two gems as presented. And as Gabby would say, “Yes-ser-ee-bob! Yer darn tootin’”!

sweet - Rich Borowy - Accessibly Live Off-Line - ...read full review


Paul Myrvold - Theatre Notes

The Killer’s Head (1975) is a curtain raiser, running about ten minutes or so. A condemned man (Steve Howie, on the evening I saw it) is blind-folded and strapped in an electric chair of the “Old Sparky” design. In a sort of faux calmness, he talks about horses and trucks as the end grows nearer. The affect on this audience member was profound and gripping. The tension ratchets up, increasing when he goes silent. Director Darrell Larson is content to have an audience sit and absorb the minutes. When the inevitable occurs, the slowest light fade I have ever seen gives a release that is perfect.

sweet - Paul Myrvold - Theatre Notes - ...read full review


Elaine L. Mura - LA Splash

From a historical perspective which honors Sam Shepard’s early work in experimental theater, this double bill was intriguing. At the same time, both plays often prove confusing and difficult to follow. They clearly reflected the ethos of the hippie era – both comic and tragic – but times and styles change. Shepard’s early work might almost be seen as the male version of the feminist movement, in that he studies the world from the perspective of the macho guy and all that viewpoint entails. Aficionados of Shepard’s work, as well as drama history buffs, will clearly enjoy the double bill. However, early Shepard might also be seen as an acquired taste.

sweet-sour - Elaine Mura - Splash Magazines - ...read full review


Avatar

While it’s a pretty weird and ultimately hysterical romp with some seriously tour-de-force monologues by Willie and The Kid, director Larson says the play is, in part, about versions of toxic masculinity.

sweet - Sarah A. Spitz - Santa Monica Daily Press - ...read full review


Avatar

Often hilarious, the play takes pointed swipes at familiar Shepard stalking horses: cliched American ideals of cowboy masculinity corrupted by conformity and mediocrity.

sweet - Philip Brandes - LA Times - ...read full review


Shari Barrett

It's as if E.T. meets the Old West in THE UNSEEN HAND, Shepard's hilarious yet foreboding sci-fi Western about a trio of legendary cowboys resurrected to help a mutant extraterrestrial free his people from slavery. The title refers to what I can best describe as an invisible Big Brother entity who places his hand on the head of an enemy, then squeezes until the victim's pain becomes so unbearable it creates insanity... and then death. So who better to ride in to the rescue than hot, gun-toting heroes of the Old West?

sweet - Shari Barrett - Broadway World - ...read full review


Joan Alperin

When I think of the late Sam Shepard, his plays Fool for Love, True West, Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class usually come to mind. I was totally unfamiliar with Killer’s Head and The Unseen Hand now playing as a double bill at the Odyssey in celebration of the theater’s 50th anniversary.

Killer’s Head first premiered at New York’s American Place Theatre in 1975 starring a then unknown Richard Gere. As part of the Odyssey’s Circa ’69 season, this ten-minute rambling monologue stars Steve Howey and will be played by several other actors throughout the run, including Dermot Mulroney. A blindfolded man is strapped into an electric chair as he awaits execution. It took me a few minutes to understand what was happening, as the murderer goes on and on about buying a new pickup truck and horse breeding and training. How avant-garde is the writing? The most interesting part was at the end: after a jarring light and loud noise, the man dies. I have no idea why Shepard wrote it. It’s James Joyce, Ambrose Bierce, and Sam Beckett on an LSD trip. Only Shepard cultists need apply.

Luckily the second play on the bill is much more interesting. The Unseen Hand is E.T. meets the Old West in Azusa. Meet the 120-year-old Blue Morphan (the excellent Carl Weintraub) who has been living for 20 years in the back of his broken-down 1951 Chevy convertible on the side of a highway.

sweet - Joan Alperin - Stage and Cinema - ...read full review


Avatar

Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 1/30/20 – After half a century, the late Sam Shephard’s “The Unseen Hand” remains a one-act comedic exploration into science fiction fabulosity that jibes a little too well with today’s world. Written when Shephard was in his late twenties and first produced in December of 1969, the play is a crazed mixture of cowboys and aliens with a big dollop of resurrection and strange ritualistic behaviors. Directed by Darrell Larson as part of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary “Circa ’69” Season, the play feels anything but dated. In contrast, it sheds remarkable light on the divided soul of Donald Trump’s country, where the American dream of a real democracy is on the brink of what feels like disaster and devastation.

sweet - John Lavitt - The Hollywood Times - ...read full review


Avatar

Director Darrell Larson was a seminal figure in the development of L.A. as a first-rate theatre community and his return to our city after a long absence is in itself reason to celebrate.
He commits himself to wrangling Shepard’s room full of meth-out cats with both intelligence and passion, and while he can’t make the play accessible he certainly does make it very entertaining.

sweet - Ernest Kearney- The TVolution - ...read full review


Avatar

The plays, Killer’s Head and The Unseen Hand represent two of the strangest plays I have seen in a long while, reminding me somewhat of the highly incompetent filmmaker Ed Wood.

Yet we know Shepard is everything but incompetent. It’s just that these works seem both more like amalgams of ideas thrown together in a baggy mess of plot than fully conceived dramas, while nonetheless being totally fascinating.

sweet - Douglas Messerli - US Theater - ...read full review


Avatar

The Unseen Hand is about the impossibility of the past reconciling with the present, and the spiritual death of the American Dream. These typical Sam Shepard themes are boldly dramatized in the Odyssey’s production, which is noteworthy for its expert direction and flawless acting. This is little theater at its best.

sweet - Willard Manus - Total Theater - ...read full review


Stephen Fife

With its improvisatory energy and unpredictable shifts, Shepard’s play depends on the performers being on the same wavelength, and this error in casting throws it off balance, bringing in questions of sexual identity that don’t arise from anything in the script. The play also depends on a sense of danger to be effective, and there isn’t much of that here. This makes it feel like Shepard-Lite — amusing, entertaining, but not as consequential as it could be. Certainly not as much as I remember it being many years ago in Downtown NYC.

sweet-sour - Stephen Fife - Stage Raw - ...read full review


Avatar

Director Darrell Larson's personal friendship with Shepard and his own avid devotion to 'relevant' theatre informs these two short pieces in a more intimate way than other directors might present them.  Shepard's words and the unusual circumstances in both pieces speak to "modern" audiences of the sixties as well as to audiences here in the 21st Century.

sweet - Michael Sheehan - On Stage Los Angeles - ...read full review


Avatar

Sam Shepard's The Unseen Hand is a wildly imaginative, hilarious send-up of various tropes, ranging from spoofing different movie genre conventions – in particular, Westerns and sci fi – and exploration of American (mis)conceptions of masculinity. To execute this intricately written 90-minute-or-so one-acter requires a finely honed cast, and fortunately director Darrell Larson has a stellar ensemble of craftsmen who do justice to Shepard’s words and actions... Carl  Weintraub humorously plays Blue as a cross between David Strathairn, Walter Brennan in countless cowboy pictures and Walter Huston’s prospector in The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Weintraub’s amusing portrayal mines comic gold.

sweet - Ed Rampell - Hollywood Progressive - ...read full review


Avatar

Directed by Darrell Larson, the pair of plays that make up this Odyssey Theatre production these isn’t as well known as the other works from the portfolio of this respected American playwright. So it’s worth the time to see these two gems as presented. And as Gabby would say, “Yes-ser-ee-bob! Yer darn tootin’”!

sweet - Rich Borowy - Accessibly Live Off-Line - ...read full review


Paul Myrvold - Theatre Notes

The Killer’s Head (1975) is a curtain raiser, running about ten minutes or so. A condemned man (Steve Howie, on the evening I saw it) is blind-folded and strapped in an electric chair of the “Old Sparky” design. In a sort of faux calmness, he talks about horses and trucks as the end grows nearer. The affect on this audience member was profound and gripping. The tension ratchets up, increasing when he goes silent. Director Darrell Larson is content to have an audience sit and absorb the minutes. When the inevitable occurs, the slowest light fade I have ever seen gives a release that is perfect.

sweet - Paul Myrvold - Theatre Notes - ...read full review