The Unseen Hand

Sam Shepard wrote his 1969 The Unseen Hand during a manic time in his life–when, he says, he “couldn’t write fast enough to keep up [with] the flow of material running through” his brain. “When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about it or continuing to ‘write’ in my head.” And certainly this extraordinary sci-fi western about a trio of legendary cowboys resurrected to help a mutant extraterrestrial baboon free his people from slavery feels like the product of a feverish mind. But unlike many of Shepard’s other “disposable plays,” as the New York Times dubbed them, The Unseen Hand has both strong characters and an interesting, unpredictable story line. No matter how hard it bucks and twists and kicks, however, it never manages to throw its writer. Instead it soars in a way that other early plays of his–Icarus’s Mother, 4-H Club–do not, especially when it receives the sort of intelligent, playful production Kerstin Broockmann and Maggie Speer gave it last spring, when Azusa Productions first mounted the play. Moving it to Profile Theatre’s considerably larger space, Broockmann and Speer have preserved all that was best about their first production; their energetic, pretty good to perfect cast (half of whom appeared in the first show) now mine the play’s deeper levels–the alien’s vulnerability, the cowboys’ sly competition–as well as they played the script’s crazier, more obvious beats the first time around. Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway, 409-4207. Through August 17: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $10; Sundays, “pay what you can.”

–Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of 3 disreputable lookin’ men from “The Unseen Hand”.