May is holed-up in a desert motel, trying to hide from Eddie, an alcoholic, hotheaded cowboy with whom she's had a long relationship. Eddie finds her, though, and they go through their usual fighting. After accusing him of having a relationship with a woman she calls The Countess, May announces she's going out on a date with a man named Martin. When Martin arrives to pick her up, this leads to a series of confessions revealing that the relationship between May and Eddie is much different than it seemed to be at first, and the mysterious Old Man who's been popping in and out of the story is a central figure in their lives.
The play was adapted into a film in 1985, directed by Robert Altman, with a screenplay by Shepard, who also starred as Eddie, along with Kim Basinger (May), Harry Dean Stanton (The Old Man) and Randy Quaid (Martin).
This play provides examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Eddie and The Old Man.
- Audience Surrogate: Martin exists as a character mainly for Eddie and May to have an outsider to whom they can deliver the lengthy Exposition about their backstories.
- Dead All Along: The Old Man, maybe. He has scenes where he interacts with Eddie and May, but they often seem like they don't hear him. Of course, rather than a straight-up ghost, he might be alive but just there in spirit.
- Distinction Without a Difference: When May says that she is waiting for a "man", Eddie answers that he is not worried because she called him a "man" and not a "guy" or something.
- The Film of the Play: Starring the playwright, no less.
- Fool for Love: Naturally, though much more Played for Drama with the main characters.
- Groin Attack: May delivers one to Eddie, just after they kiss each other.
- Hell Hotel: Set in a creepy motel in the middle of nowhere.
- In the Blood: It's obvious that Eddie's becoming just like his father.
- Mind Screw: What seems like a straightforward dueling-lovers-drama turns into a perplexing story where the border between reality and fantasy becomes blurred.
- Naïve Newcomer: Martin had no clue what he was getting into with May.
- No Name Given: The Old Man's name isn't revealed.
- The Reveal: Eddie and May are cousins, except that ends up not being true. They're actually half-siblings both fathered by The Old Man, and kept their relationship going even after the Surprise Incest reveal.
- Secret Other Family: The Old Man was having simultaneous relationships with the mothers of Eddie and May. Eddie found out and that's how he met May. After they fell in love, they learned they were siblings.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Eddie and May are an intense version of this.
- Spoiler Cover: The cover for the first UK VHS release flat-out gives away The Reveal in its tagline!
- Unreliable Narrator: The film version emphasizes that Eddie, May and The Old Man aren't being completely truthful in their confessions, often punching up the story with melodramatic details.