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a m e r i c a n c o n s e r vat o r y t h e at e r Carey Perloff, Artistic Director Heather Kitchen, Executive Director Curse of the
Starving Class
by sam shepard
directed by peter dubois
american conservatory theater
april 25–may 25, 2008
WORDS ON PLAYS prepared by
elizabeth brodersen
publications editor
michael paller
resident dramaturg
margot melcon
publications & literary associate
ariel franklin-hudson
Words on Plays is made possible in part by The Andrew W. Mellon a.c.t. is supported in part by the Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art, and the donors of The Next Generation Campaign.
2008 AmEriCAn ConsErvAtory tHEAtEr, A nonProfit orgAnizAtion. All rigHts rEsErvED.
questions to consider
. Do you find yourself sympathizing with any of the characters? Does your sympathy shift at different points from one character to another? Which character do you like the least? Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? How can you tell? 2. What is “the starving class”? Is anyone in the play a member of the “starving class”? What is the significance of food (or lack thereof ) in this play? 3. What is the “curse” Shepard is referring to in the title of the play? What do you think of the relationship between father and son in this play? How are Wesley and Weston the same? How are they different? What about the relationship between mother and daugh-ter? Mother and son? What does Emma mean when she refers to their family having “nitroglycerin in the blood”? 4. What do you think of Ella and Weston’s relationship? Is Ella unreasonable in trying to sell the farm and get away? What other options does she have? What would you do under these circumstances? 5. Each of the characters in the play at some point talks about escaping their circumstances (Ella to Europe; Wesley to Alaska; Emma to Mexico; Weston to Mexico at the end of the play). Why are they so desperate to leave? What are they escaping from? What about their lives will change if they leave the farm? 6. What is the significance of the door in Curse of the Starving Class? What is important about keeping outside and inside separate? How does that relate to infection and disease? What do you think of the diseased lamb being brought indoors? 7. What do you think of Mr. Taylor? How does his arrival affect the family? 8. What do you think of the design for this production of Curse of the Starving Class? How do the design elements (sets, costumes, lighting, sound) affect your perception of the story? If you were designing a production of this play, how would your design be different? Why? 9. Do you think the play is realistic? If not, at what point does it no longer seem real? 0. Curse of the Starving Class has been described as “exposing the dark underbelly of the American Dream.” In what ways does Curse of the Starving Class explore the idea of “the American Dream”? What do you think Shepard is saying about America? See, I always figured on the future. I banked on it. I was banking on it getting better. It couldn’t get worse, so I figured it’d just get better. I figured that’s why everyone wants you to buy things. . . . They wouldn’t be so generous if they didn’t figure you had it comin’ in. At some point it had to be comin’ in. So I went along with it. Why not borrow if you know it’s coming in. Why not make a touch here and there. They all want you to borrow anyhow. . . . The whole thing’s geared to invisible money. You never hear the sound of change anymore. It’s all plastic shuffling back and forth. It’s all in everybody’s heads. So I figured if that’s the case, why not take advantage of it? Why not go in debt for a few grand if all it is is numbers? If it’s all an idea and nothing’s really there, why not take advantage? So I went along with it, that’s all. I just played ball. What is he talking about? The play was originally written in 978. Does anything about Weston’s speech resonate with the financial climate today? What is still true about debt and the American Dream today? 2. What is the significance of Weston’s eagle story? What might the eagle symbolize or represent? What might the cat symbolize or represent?


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