Belfast Telegraph

Derry theatre in tribute to Sam Shepard, who fell in love with city

By Staff Reporter

A theatre in Londonderry that hosted a world premiere of Sam Shepard's final play has paid tribute to the Hollywood star after his death aged 73.

Shepard was in Derry in November 2013 as part of its City Of Culture year with Field Day and fell in love with the city.

Described by the New York Times as "the greatest American playwright of his generation", his long career saw him win a 1979 Pulitzer Prize for drama for his play Buried Child.

He was also an Oscar nominee in the best supporting actor category for playing pilot Chuck Yeager in 1983's The Right Stuff.

He died last week at his home in Kentucky from complications related to Lou Gehrig's disease.

Niall McCaughan, CEO of The Playhouse in Derry, said he had been saddened by Shepard's death.

"Shepard had written A Particle Of Dread (Oedipus variations) and we were fortunate as one of the key commissioning and producing theatres in Ireland to host this world premiere," said Mr McCaughan.

"Having Field Day back in our buildings was exciting enough, but to have a screen legend was another thing. He was a true gentleman; everyone liked him and he took Derry to his heart.

"In one interview for The Guardian he stated: 'In Derry, you have a feeling of home, there's a centre to it. In LA, you don't get that feeling at all, you feel like home is splintered off in a thousand directions'. When we first learned that Sam was coming to the city I Googled him and was surprised to learn that he was better known as a playwright than a Hollywood screen legend.

"His plays were bleak, poetic, had black humour, and focused on those living on the outskirts of American society. Originally when he came to The Playhouse, he only was to stay a week, but ended up staying nearly two months.

"He was a likeable man, and I have to say that I was a bit star-struck when I first met him.

"On the world premiere of his play, I had, on the opening night, to give my seat up for Edna O'Brien.

"On my second attempt the following night I again had to give up my seat, this time to Neil Jordan, and ended up heading to our theatre bar to chat to our staff.

"Here I was surprised to find Sam on his own, and I ended up spending a lovely night chatting about life in general. I was really surprised to learn that, like me, he was from a farming background and still kept a busy farm.

"This was the highlight personally for me of his visit to Derry, and we in The Playhouse were honoured that he came into our lives for such a brief time, but left his mark here in our cultural city and globally."

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