Unveiling the powerful voices of the American stage, our article takes a deep dive into the dynamic world of Sam Shepard monologues. With his raw and complex characterizations, Shepard’s work has held a long-lasting impact on contemporary theatre, allowing actors of all ages to explore intense human experiences. This illuminating exploration of Sam Shepard’s monologues is not only for actors seeking compelling material but also for anyone interested in the art of the spoken word and the storytelling power of the theatre.
Known for his unparalleled contribution to American drama, Sam Shepard was graced with a remarkable talent for characterization, evident in plays such as “Curse of the Starving Class” and “The God of Hell”. His dramatic pieces contain poignant themes and rich character portrayals, as seen in his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Buried Child”. Actors often turn to his works for dramatic monologues that not only challenge their craft but also resonate deeply with audiences due to the intense human experiences they explore.
In this article, we will navigate through the complexity of Shepard’s characters and their dramatic monologues, examining their influence and contribution to American theatre and the acting landscape. These monologues hold power and emotion, embodying a unique blend of protest, American culture, social attitudes, and familial relationships.
Overview: When Vince introduces his sweetheart, Shelly, to his kin for the first time, she is initially enchanted by their seemingly ordinary farmstead, which she likens to a picture-perfect “Norman Rockwell illustration”. However, this idyllic impression is quickly shattered upon encountering his eccentric family. His grandparents, given to constant tirades and seemingly perpetually inebriated, have two sons: Tilden, an intimidating figure with limited intellectual capabilities, and Bradley, who is missing a leg as a result of a chainsaw accident. Oddly enough, nobody initially recalls Vince, and they regard him as an outsider. Over time, though, they gradually acknowledge him as a component of their tumultuous and dysfunctional family
Suddenly, Vince stumbles through the porch screen, in a state of inebriation. At long last, Dodge and Halie acknowledge their grandson. Vince discloses to Shelly that he felt a compelling pull to return to the farmhouse, driven by a vision of his kin.a
Vince: I was gonna run last night. I was gonna run and keep right on running. Clear to the Iowa border. I drove all night with the windows open. The old man’s two bucks flapping right on the seat beside me. It never stopped raining the whole time. Never stopped once. I could see myself in the windshield. My face. My eyes. I studied my face. Studied everything about it as though I was looking at another man. As though I could see his whole race behind him. Like a mummy’s face. I saw him dead and alive at the same time. In the same breath. In the windshield I watched him breathe as though he was frozen in time and every breath marked him. Marked him forever without him knowing. And then his face changed. His face became his father’s face. Same bones. Same eyes. Same nose. Same breath. And his father’s face changed to his grandfather’s face. And it went on like that. Changing. Clear on back to faces I’d never seen before but still recognized. Still recognized the bones underneath. Same eyes. Same mouth. Same breath. I followed my family clear into Iowa. Every last one. Straight into the corn belt and further. Straight back as far as they’d take me. Then it all dissolved. Everything dissolved. Just like that. And that two bucks kept right on flapping on the seat beside me.
Age: 20s 30s
Fool For Love
EDDIE: And we walked right through town. Past the donut shop, past the miniature golf course, past the Chevron station. And he opened the bottle up and offered it to me. Before he even took a drink, he offered it to me first. And I took it and drank it and handed it back to him. And we just kept passing it back and forth like that as we walked until we drank the whole thing dry. And we never said a word the whole time. Then, finally, we reached this little white house with a red awning, on the far side of town. I’ll never forget the red awning because it flapped in the night breeze and the porch light made itglow. It was a hot, desert breeze and the air smelt like new-cut alfalfa. We walked right up to the front porch and he rang the bell and I remember getting real nervous because I wasn’t expecting to visit anybody. I though we were just out for a walk. And then this woman comes to the door. This real pretty woman with red hair. And she throws herself into his arms. And he starts crying. He just breaks down right there in front of me. And she’s kissing him all over the face and holding him real tight and he’s just crying like a baby. And then through the doorway, behind them both, I see this girl. She just appears. She’s just standing there, staring at me and I’m staring back at her and we can’t take our eyes off each other. It was like we knew each other from somewhere but we couldn’t place where. But the second we saw each other, that very second, we knew we’d never stop being in love.
Age: 20s 30s 40s
May:Okay. Look. I don’t understand what you’ve got in your head anymore. I really don’t. I don’t get it. Now, you desperately need me. Now, you can’t live without me. NOW, you’ll do anything for me. Why should I believe it this time? It was supposed to have been true every time before. Every other time. Now it’s true again. You’ve been jerking me off like this for fifteen years. Fifteen years I’ve been a yo-yo for you. I’ve never been split. I’ve never been two ways about you. I’ve either loved you or not loved you. And now I just plain don’t love you. Understand? Do you understand me? I don’t love you. I don’t need you. I don’t want you. Do you get that? Now if you can still stay then you’re either crazy or pathetic.
Age: 20s 30s
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A Lie Of The Mind
Sally: That was before. Before he’d had a drink. Now it was like he’d had a transfusion or somethin’. That tequila went right into his blood and lit him on fire. He crouched down in a racing position right beside Jake. And they were both deadly serious. And then they took off. Dad took about four strides and fell flat on his face in the street but Jake never stopped. He ran like a wild colt and never once looked back. Straight into the next bar up the block. I went over and tried to help Dad up but he turned on me and snarled. Just like a dog. Just exactly like a crazy dog. I saw it in his eyes. This deep, deep hate that came from somewhere far away. It was pure, black hate with no purpose. He wouldn’t let me help him. He just crawled up the street toward the bar that Jake went into. And there I was following along behind. I felt so stupid. He kept turning and snarling at me to keep back. But I didn’t wanna fall too far back ‘cause I was afraid somethin’ – I was afraid something’ bad might happen to him and – it happened anyway. Jake came up with a brilliant idea. He said, since we were only about a mile from the American border we should hit every bar and continue the race until we got to the other side. First one to the other side, won. First one to America! But we couldn’t miss a bar. Right then I knew what Jake had in mind. (Pause) Jake had decided to kill him.
(As he throws wood into wheelbarrow.) I was lying there on my back. I could smell the avocado blossoms. I could hear the coyotes. I could hear stock cars squealing down the street.
I could feel myself in my bed in my room in this house in this town in this state in this country. I could feel this country close like it was part of my bones.
I could feel the presence of all the people outside, at night, in the dark. Even sleeping people I could feel. Even all the sleeping animals. Dogs. Peacocks. Bulls.
Even tractors sitting in the wetness, waiting for the sun to come up. I was looking straight up at the ceiling at all my model airplanes hanging by all their thin metal wires.
Floating. Swaying very quietly like they were being blown by someone’s breath. Cobwebs moving with them. Dust laying on their wings. Decals peeling off their wings. My P-39.
My Messerschmitt. My Jap Zero. I could feel myself lying far below them on my bed like I was on the ocean and overhead they were on reconnaissance.
Scouting me. Floating. Taking pictures of the enemy. Me, the enemy. I could feel the space around me like a big, black world. I listened like an animal. My listening was afraid.
Afraid of sound. Tense. Like any second something could invade me. Some foreigner. Something indescribable. Then I heard the Packard coming up the hill.
From a mile off I could tell it was the Packard by the sound of the valves. The lifters have a sound like nothing else. Then I could picture my dad driving it. Shifting unconsciously.
Downshifting into second for the last pull up the hill. I could feel the headlights closing in. Cutting through the orchard. I could see the trees being lit one after the other by the lights, then going back to black. My heart was pounding. Just from my dad coming back. Then I heard him pull the brake. Lights go off. Key’s turned off. Then a long silence. Him just sitting in the car. Just sitting.
I picture him just sitting. What’s he doing? Just sitting. Waiting to get out. Why’s he waiting to get out? He’s plastered and can’t move. He’s plastered and doesn’t want to move.
He’s going to sleep there all night. He’s slept there before. He’s woken up with dew on the hood before. Freezing headache. Teeth covered with peanuts. Then I hear the door of the Packard open.
A pop of metal. Dogs barking down the road. Door slams. Feet. Paper bag being tucked under one arm. Paper bag covering “Tiger Rose.” Feet coming. Feet walking toward the door.
Feet stopping. Heart pounding. Sound of door not opening. Foot kicking door. Man’s voice. Dad’s voice. Dad calling Mom. No answer. Foot kicking. Foot kicking harder.
Wood splitting. Man’s voice. In the night. Foot kicking hard through door. One foot right through the door. Man cursing. Man going insane. Feet and hands tearing.
Head smashing. Man yelling. Shoulder smashing. Whole body crashing. Woman screaming. Mom screaming. Mom screaming for police. Man throwing wood.
Man throwing up. Mom calling cops. Dad crashing away. Back down driveway. Car door slamming. Ignition grinding. Wheels screaming. First gear grinding. Wheels screaming off down hill.
Packard disappearing. Sound disappearing. No sound. No sight. Planes still hanging. Heart still pounding. No sound. Mom crying soft. Soft crying. Then no sound. Then softly crying.
Then moving around through house. Then no moving. Then crying softly. Then stopping. Then, far off the freeway could be heard.
Age: 20s 30s
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This is an Austin monologue however we have also left the Lee dialogue in between for context. You can edit this however you choose when presenting it.
AUSTIN: You wanna’ drink?
(AUSTIN offers bottle to LEE, LEE takes it, sits down on kitchen floor With AUSTIN, they share the bottle)
Yeah, he lost his real teeth one at a time. Woke up every morning with another tooth lying on the mattress. Finally, he decides he’s gotta’ get ’em all pulled out but he doesn’t have any money. Middle of Arizona with no money and no insurance and every morning another tooth is lying on the mattress. (takes a drink) So what does he do?
LEE: I dunno’. I never knew about that.
AUSTIN: He begs the government. G.I. Bill or some damn thing. Some pension plan he remembers in the back of his head. And they send him out the money.
LEE: They did?
(they keep trading the bottle between them, taking drinks)
AUSTIN: Yeah. They send him the money but it’s not enough money. Costs a lot to have all yer teeth yanked. They charge by the individual tooth, ya’ know. I mean one tooth isn’t equal to another tooth. Some are more expensive. Like the big ones in the back–
LEE: So what happened?
AUSTIN: So he locates a Mexican dentist in Juarez who’ll do the whole thing for a song. And he takes off hitchhiking to the border.
AUSTIN: Yeah. So how long you think it takes him to get to the border? A man his age.
LEE: I dunno.
AUSTIN: Eight days it takes him. Eight days in the rain and the sun and every day he’s droppin’ teeth on the blacktop and nobody’ll pick him up ’cause his mouth’s full a’ blood. (pause, they drink) So finally he stumbles into the dentist. Dentist takes all his money and all his teeth. And there he is, in Mexico, with his gums sewed up and his pockets empty.
(long silence, AUSTIN drinks)
LEE: That’s it?
AUSTIN: Then I go out to see him, see. I go out there and I take him out for a nice Chinese dinner. But he doesn’t eat. All he wants to do is drink Martinis outa’ plastic cups. And he takes his teeth out and lays ’em on the table ’cause he can’t stand the feel of ’em. And we ask the waitress for one a’ those doggie bags to take the Chop Suey home in. So he drops his teeth in the doggie bag along with the Chop Suey. And then we go out to hit all the bars up and down the highway. Says he wants to introduce me to all his buddies. And in one a’ those bars, in one a’ those bars up and down the highway, he left that doggie bag with his teeth laying in the Chop Suey.
LEE: You never found it?
AUSTIN: We went back but we never did find it. (pause) Now that’s a true story. True to life.
(they drink as lights fade to black)
Age: 20s 30s 40s
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Curse Of The Starving Class
Emma: I had a fryer in there all ready to go. I killed it interested in everything. I just stuck it in here yesterday.
Ma, you didn’t use my chicken did you?
That was my chicken. You boiled it? You boiled my chicken?!
I raised that chicken from the incubator to the grave and you, you boiled it like it was any old frozen hunk of flesh? There’s no consideration for the labor involved. I get to feed that chicken crushed corn every day for a year. I have to change its water, I have to kill it with an ax. I had to spill its guts out. I had to pluck every feather off of its body so that you could take it and boil it! Ah there is no consideration. If I had seen a chicken in the freezer I would have asked somebody before I went and boiled it.
Age: 20s 30s
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The God Of Hell
WELCH: Well, well, well—Mr. “Haynes,” is that it? Mr. Haynes? Very
inventive. Deceptively simple. Almost poetic. “Haynes”—rhymes with “pains,” or is it “shames”? Possibly. Could even be “blames.” The choices are endless. Well, not exactly endless. Everything has its limits, I suppose. Everything runs into a brick wall sooner or later. Even the most heroic ideas.
(WELCH crosses to kitchen counter, sets his attaché case down on it, and pops the case open.)
Sooner or later it would come down to just a nite number of possibilities, wouldn’t it, Haynes? Brains, maims, ames, chains. Which is it? What’s it going to be?
(HAYNES appears at top of stairs, head slumped down, shoulders slouched. WELCH smiles at him, then pulls out the long string of tiny
American ags from his case along with a large chrome staple gun. He climbs up on kitchen counter with the string of ags and stapler, continuing to talk to HAYNES. He starts stapling the string of ags to the
cupboards above the sink.)
There he is! There he nally is. Looking just a wee bit sheepish and downtrodden. We’ve been hunting all over for you, buddy- boy. You’ve caused us a great deal of anxiety. Not to mention the exorbitant and unnecessary expense.
HAYNES: How did you track me down?
(Everything is now being punctuated by the shots from the staple
WELCH: You left a very luminous trail, Mr. Haynes. Technology’s a marvelous thing, though. Night vision. Infra-ray. It’s
extraordinary how blind the naked eye is. No wonder people have so much trouble accepting the truth these days.
HAYNES: I’m not going back, you know.
WELCH: Let’s not start o on the wrong foot, buddy-boy.
HAYNES: I’m not going back!
WELCH: (chuckles) I’m afraid you’re going to have to now. You’re
contaminated. You’re a carrier. What’re we going to do about that? We can’t have you free-ranging all over the American countryside like some kind of headless chicken, can we? You’ve already endangered the lives of your friends here, not to mention the Midwest at large. Now, that was pretty selsh of you, wasn’t it? Poisoning the Heartland?
HAYNES: You can’t take me back there.
WELCH: Oh, come on now, “Haynes”—you were getting along so well.
You can’t just walk out in the middle of a project like that. You don’t want to be known as a quitter, do you? Besides, we have a brand-new mission for you. Something of extreme international urgency. I’m sure you’re going to want to be a part of it.
Age: 30s 40s
Whether you’re an actor preparing for an audition, a drama teacher searching for thought-provoking material for your students, or simply a lover of great American theatre, you’ll find valuable insights in our exploration of these Sam Shepard monologues. We hope you have enjoyed this article and have found a few great Shepard monologues to work on!