Review of Buried Child
By Sam Shepard
Directed by Elizabeth Craven
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol
Tickets: $30, $25 Senior 65+, $15 Students

RUN: February 2-25, 2018
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

(February 8, 2018)

Main Stage West - Buried Child

Dodge (John Craven) is presented with corn by his son Tilden (Keith Baker). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Buried Child examines the reality behind a Norman Rockwell “all-American” family decaying into sunset years. The confident father holding court at Thanksgiving with a glistening roast turkey has become a cantankerous invalid bellowing for whisky, and the popular high school halfback shuffles about the kitchen with a haunted expression, a fragile shell of the man he was. Sam Shepard’s writing is a product of his era—its leisurely pacing and measured dialogue is difficult for a contemporary audience to connect with, although the genius of his imagination echoes through the play.

Swaying between gritty realism and flights of the surreal, Buried Child is a mashup of genres, held together by Missy Weaver’s extraordinary lighting design enveloping the actors in gloom, swaths of green, and dramatic ruby bleeding across the walls. The emotional journey is less focused, eliminating transitional arcs in favor of disjointed snapshots. Buried Child is not entirely linear; time overlaps, expanding into a mosaic of chaotic pieces in its conclusion, giving the story a dreamlike quality.

Main Stage West - Buried Child

Shelly (Ivy Rose Miller) contemplates the odd situation. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Shelly, a young woman visiting the house, becomes a stand-in for the audience, reacting to the jaded family with horror and pity at what they have become. Ivy Rose Miller portrays Shelly as openhearted, hoping to believe the best in others, while maintaining an intelligent outlook. Her boyfriend Vince (Sam Coughlin) appears to be reasonable at first glance, until his dismissive, violent attitude emerges.

John Craven as Dodge is both engrossing and repellent, wrapped in his soiled blanket, blustering orders that are no longer obeyed. His sons, Tilden (Keith Baker) and Bradley (Eric Burke) are ghoulish shadows of their former youth, equally disturbing in contrasting ways. Tilden’s innocent, yet perturbing desire to stroke Shelly’s jacket earned a mutter of “disgusting” from the audience, and Bradley takes perverse pleasure in shaving his father’s hair until the scalp bleeds from his attention.

America’s idealized family and white picket fence rot before our eyes in Buried Child, parading the flawed nature of humanity. Is there a future beyond the corrupt, decomposing dream?