Theater: Snake Oil

The U.S. may be the only country in which a would-be revolutionary carries a bomb in one pocket and a credit card in the other. This schizophrenia increasingly infests the theater. Typically, Sam Shepard's play Operation Sidewinder deplores the mechanization and dehumanization of U.S. life, and yet the show owes the little vitality it has to mechanical props, and the electric guitars and drum-blistering fervor of a folk-rock group known as the Holy Modal Rounders.

The finest prop is a super-rattler of a snake with blinking red eyes. It is actually a super-computer fashioned by the usual mad German émigré scientist;...

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