Oyster Boy Review 16  
  Winter 2002
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Shoppers: Two Plays

Kevin McGowin

Noted fiction writer and essayist Denis Johnson's first volume of plays, released in paperback, is solid and the plays stage worthy, a bit in the Sam Shepard American tradition, though nothing here's gonna knock you on your ass with your mouth open like the best of his prose, either. But his characterizations ring true and the plays are darkly comic. Johnson is playwright in residence for the Campo Santo theatre company in San Francisco, he's still young, and if he wants to be a playwright, this is a good start, though he's already a hell of a lot better at it than most (and it seems like all novelists or poets try playwriting eventually, with usually disastrous results). Writing plays is very different from writing novels and stories, no matter how good you are at dialogue, and it's every bit as hard, in general—and Johnson's technique is pretty solid. In fact, he could use that technique along with the wild imagination he shows in novels like his masterpiece, Jesus' Son, to create exciting and unique plays that avoid all that pretentious and tired Tom Stoppard shit, and which go beyond Shepard's often tedious thematic symbolism, while being funny, terrifying, clear, direct and profound all at once. He's not quite there yet, but he's got it in him and he's more than well on his way.