Liz on Theatre

Sam Shepard's 'Simpatico' takes off


Sam Shepard’s “Simpatico” has a forceful workout at McCarter Theatre.

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, NJ – If you’re at all familiar with the works of Sam Shepard, you know that he writes about gritty, unforgiving characters in what appear to be hopeless situations.

Sign Up for E-News

In “Simpatico,” we learn that Vinnie and Carter are former partners in a race horse scheme, but dissolved that relationship 15 years ago. (Simpatico was the name of the race horse.) The hapless Vinnie (Guy Van Swearingen) is visited by Carter (Michael Shannon) to bail him out from yet another arrest, this time for threatening his girlfriend, Cecilia.

The preppy, successful Carter initially sees his job as smoothing over Vinnie’s troubles. Carter visits Cecilia (Mierka Girten) in her home and persuades her to some to Vinnie’s place to sort out their problems.  But along the way, Vinnie visits Simms (John Judd) to convince him he has compromising photographs of his former girlfriend, Rosie, with Simms. He tries, unsuccessfully, to get Simms to buy them.

When Simms rejects his offer, Vinnie goes to Kentucky and confronts, Rosie (Jennifer Engstrom), who is now married to Carter.  We see Kristin E. Ellis as Kelly, who takes care of Rosie’s children, but is suspicious of Vinnie when he comes to call.

Meanwhile, Carter convinces Cecilia to visit Simms and offer him money to take back the box of photos that he thinks Vinnie has sold to Simms.

If this isn’t confusing enough, we have scenes in Cucamonga and San Dimas, California and Midway and Lexington, Kentucky. The action moves along from Vinnie’s hole-in-the wall digs to a mansion, with set design by Grant Sabin. Costumes by Christine Pascual reflect the rich/poor contrasts among the characters. It all takes a dark turn as Carter begins to disintegrate while Vinnie becomes stronger.

Dado has directed this production, which has been presented, in conjunction with McCarter, by A Red Orchid Theatre Company from Chicago.  It’s a fitting tribute to playwright Shepard, who died in July. Still, we are left wondering about the ultimate fate of these problematic people. There are touches of humor along the way, especially when Cecilia thinks she might go to the Kentucky Derby, a long held dream.

The question through all of this is: why should we care about these people? The only sane one appears to be Cecilia, who works in a Safeway Supermarket.  The actors are all convincing in their roles, especially Rosie with her come-hither charm, who is emotionally devastated when Vinnie gives her the box of pictures.

If you’re a Shepard fan, this is the play for you. But if you’re not, it’s a downhill slog from beginning to end.  “Simpatico” continues at the Berlind Theatre of the McCarter Theatre Center through Oct. 15. For tickets, call 609-528-2787 or visit


Liz Keill reviews professional theatre in the New Jersey area, ranging from the McCarter Theatre in Princeton to Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. In addition to writing for, she does theatre analysis for HometowneTV in Summit. She holds a Bachelor's in Journalism from Penn State and a Master's in Communication from Syracuse University. Liz is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, which holds seminars at regional theatres across the country as well as in New York City.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Livingston Students Make Their Voices Heard in National Walkout

March 15, 2018

LIVINGSTON, NJ — In order to make their voices heard and prove that “age is no obstacle to activism,” hundreds of Livingston High School (LHS) students participated in the student-led National School Walkout on Wednesday morning. For 17 minutes, the students gathered on the blacktop near the turf to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting and to also take a stance on gun ...

Fair Lawn High School Students Walkout, Show Solidarity with Parkland, FL Victims

March 15, 2018

FAIR LAWN, NJ - Students walked out of class for 17 minutes to show solidarity with Parkland, FL students and teachers killed on Feb. 14.

Asking for tougher gun laws, students held signs in protest of a lack of government action, in addition to victims from other school shootings.

Glen Rock High School held a similar walkout in which the press was asked to stay away. Students in Glen Rock ...

Upcoming Events

Sat, March 17, 1:30 PM

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Make Your Own Rain Barrel

Education Green

Sat, March 17, 8:00 PM

Upper Montclair

Comedy: Almost Maine

Arts & Entertainment

Sun, March 18, 8:30 AM

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge HQ, Sussex

NJ Audubon: Winter Raptors and Wildfowl: Wallkill ...


Montclair Police Blotter: Vehicles Struck by Falling Trees, Attempted Burglary to Gates Ave. Residences and More

March 15, 2018

MONTCLAIR, NJ- The following blotter was issued by the Montclair Police Department on  March 13, 2018. 

03-07- 2018 (Orange Road) Attempted burglary to a residence. The suspect was not successful in gaining
access to the residence. The suspect vehicle was described as a white Dodge Ram pickup truck.
03-10- 2018 (North Fullerton Avenue) Theft of delivered packages ...

Junior League of Montclair-Newark, Inc 50/50 Raffle

March 16, 2018

MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Junior League of Montclair-Newark, Inc. (JLMN) has provided support and service to women and children in Bloomfield, The Caldwells, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Glen Ridge, Irvington, Montclair, Newark and Verona for more than 95 years.

Our trained, enthusiastic members are committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community ...