The goose and rabbit who have been delighting audiences on Broadway in The Ferryman now have some competition in the nonhuman actor category: the sheep who graces the stage for much of Signature Theater’s revival of Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class. It’s clear from the startling outset, when the walls of the dilapidated kitchen crack and break apart, that things aren’t going to end well for human and nonhuman alike. And the play implies that the divide between human and animal isn’t as stark as we would like to imagine—life in Shepard’s America is a brute struggle for survival that pits everyone against each other, including family members, and ends in mutual destruction, like the eagle-and-cat parable that concludes the play.
It’s almost three decades since Richard Greenberg distinguished himself as the baby boomers’ Philip Barry. For audiences of the late 1980s, the dialogue of Greenberg’s breakout comedy Eastern Standard was as racy and iconoclastic as The Philadelphia Story had been to playgoers in the late 1930s; and the frolicsome plot and screwball characters had a joie de vivre reminiscent of Barry’s Holiday. At a moment when the Great White Way was being colonized by super-sized, techno-heavy musical productions imported from afar, Eastern Standard appeared to be reclaiming the New York Theater District for native wit and homegrown perspectives.