How Steve Earle Got Back Into Downtown Theater

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Steve Earle on the set of the new Richard Maxwell play, “Samara.” Mr. Earle acts in the play and wrote the music for it. CreditCaitlin Ochs for The New York Times

He may be best known as a rootsy, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, but music has never been quite enough for Steve Earle. In the 31 years since the release of his debut album, “Guitar Town,” he’s published a short-story collection and a novel, run a theater company and acted on television in “The Wire” and “Treme.” In his spare moments, he hosts the weekly “Hardcore Troubadour Radio” show on SiriusXM and an annual songwriting camp in the Catskills.

Making the most of a lull before the June release of his 16th studio album, “So You Wanna Be an Outlaw,” Mr. Earle, 62, is bringing his haunting, life-beaten presence — part prophet and part Sam Peckinpah character — to the new Off Broadway play “Samara.”

“This is the longest I’ve ever worked on a single project besides my books, which take forever,” he said with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment at theater’s protracted gestation. He’ll have to get used to that, as he’s now developing musicals of his own.

Mr. Earle jumped into the artistic deep end, too: a poetic, elemental Western of sorts, “Samara,” which is at the A.R.T./New York Theaters through May 7, is by the definitely nonmainstream Richard Maxwell (“Good Samaritans”) and is directed by Sarah Benson for Soho Rep, the company responsible for mind-scrambling fare like “We Are Proud to Present…” and “An Octoroon.”

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