The documentary "This So-Called Disaster" is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Sam Sheppard's semi-autobiographical play "The Late Henry Moss," which debuted in San Francisco in 2000. Being himself the son of an alcoholic father, Sheppard drew upon his own personal experience for this cathartic tale of two brothers' coming to terms with the death of their own alcoholic father. The actors in this production include Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Cheech Marin and Woody Harrelson. As Penn says at one point, Sheppard's plays often deal with the theme of men trying to forge their identities in a world with no clear-cut definition of what a man is supposed to be. This theme filters through in both the snippets of the play we see being worked on in the rehearsals and in the on-camera interviews with Sheppard and many of the principal performers in the production.
It's a tribute to both the power of Sheppard's writing and the talent of the actors playing the roles that we find ourselves wanting to see this play merely from the glimpses we get of it in rough-cut form. Anyone interested in playwriting and fine acting will be mesmerized by the nuts-and-bolts aspects of this film, as it shows us just how a theatrical work, involving some of the greatest talents in modern drama, ultimately comes to fruition.
It's no "Looking for Richard," but "This So-Called Disaster" has much to offer the serious theaterphile.