Playwright's 'Curse' carries a timeless societal message

Playwright Sam Shepard likes to write about dysfunctional families from the Midwest.

In the case of "Curse of the Starving Class," the family is headed by an alcoholic father. The mother is having an affair; the preteen daughter is angry and precocious; and the teen-age son wants something better for himself but doesn't know how to get it.

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Thad Allender/Journal-World Photo

E.M.U. Theatre will present "Curse of the Starving Class" by Sam Shepard at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at Ecumenical Christian Ministries. Here, Christie Farris Oberg portrays Ella, who prepares dinner for her son Wesley, played by Alex Holt at right.

It's the type of dark comedy that E.M.U. Theatre hopes will draw an audience.

"Even though it's set in the '50s, it's a modern play," said actor Andy Stowers, who plays the father. "They are so far in debt and they can't make ends meet. I saw in the paper where a record number of bankruptcies is expected later this year. It's about the American Dream and � how families are left behind."

Shepard also likes to write about people who are at odds with external forces, said actor Chad Adams, who plays the mother's lawyer and lover and who ends up being a crook.

"The land development guy is a con man. Shepard doesn't present a positive image of the land developer, but the father also is a contributor to his own downfall," said Stowers, adding that the play has no real heroes. "The father, by the third act, has sobered up, but it's too late."

Stowers said "Curse of the Starving Class" was commissioned from Shepard by Joseph Papp, an American director and producer, and was first produced in 1978.

"He wanted him to write about a family," he said. "It got the Obie Award before it was ever performed."

The play was later made into a movie starring Kathy Bates, James Woods and Randy Quaid.

In addition to Stowers and Adams, other cast members are Alex Holt, Amber Renee McIntosh, Christie Farris Oberg, Nate Cadman, Buck Rowland and James Beckard. Director is Erin Jones.

E.M.U. Theatre is an independent, not-for-profit theater collective staffed by volunteers. In the past 2 1/2 years, the company has staged more than 12 productions, many of which were original scripts. More than 25 local writers have had works produced by E.M.U. Theatre.

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