Ovation Stage’s Production of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child”: Notes and Comments

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are people in this world who see the world differently then most people see it.  Nor should it come as a shock that some of them, while entirely functional as people, have a nature that most of “us” would find alien.  Which is to say, thoroughly unlike the norm we expect.

That so many of them appear in Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” is the real surprise.  All told, there is only one person in the cast of characters that appears to have achieved that most desired of states, to be “normal.”  And she is quite undone by the end of the play.  It’s doubtful she will ever be the same “normal” again.

The other thing that’s interesting about “Buried Child” is that the author is allowed to run free, creating dystopian family drama, and not hauled off to some gulag or re-evacuation camp, or an asylum (as is the case in so many other countries.)  But this is the United States, and our libertarian values are guaranteed.  So be it.

And so we have Penny Kline of Ovation Stage, who has put on an incredibly well staged, expertly directed and marvelously acted rendition of “Buried Child” — an exceptional effort.  The story isn’t complicated (it’s dark, but not obscure), but the interactions are very complicated, the timing has to be exquisite (and it is), and the actors have to achieve a dynamic rhythm that defines a job well done (and they do.)

The cast: Marcus Daniel (“Dodge”), Karen Kearney (“Halie”), Steve Buri (“Tilden”), John Hopkins (“Bradley”), Amber Lucito (“Shelly”), Doug Piper (“Vince”), Mark Brown (“Father Dewis”), and Patrick Claypool (“The Spirit of the Buried Child”.)

The play never stops being interesting, from the first minor hint that the denizens of the house are ill-tempered and odd (Dodge and Halie), then the introduction of mentally ill Tilden, and finally at some point to the realization that the whole family has a dark secret which is driving them further into madness.  Patrick Claypool’s eerie musical accompaniment adds another character — pure sentiment, a character devoid of actual presence.  But very much still felt.

Bradley, having suffered a lifetime of slights,  takes his childhood revenge out on any living being in his path.  Vince falls victim to his family per-disposition to be angry and destructive.   Father Dewis provides absolutely no balm whatsoever.  Halie retreats to neverland and Dodge retreats to stupor. Tilden struggles to find relief from the truth, finding some solace in a mysterious garden that is in full bloom.  And through it all the characters go at each other with a wicked determination.

In short, this is a place where unrequited love is used as an instrument of torture.

The catalyst to the final uncovering of the secret is Vince, long lost grandchild who in unrecognized by his father and grandfather.  Shelly, a reflection of the “real” world appears as the ghost in the play, and the family breaks down to total chaos as she struggles to comprehend them.  It is Shelly who shames them into revealing the truth.

Now this madness is not unique, plays are full of it, from Oedipus to Macbeth.  But what makes this story a bit shocking is the revelation near the end that these people were once, as Dodge points out, “well established.”  In other words, normal.

We see them as crazy, potentially dangerous, and totally sinister in their lunacy.  But they didn’t start out that way.  We never see the normal in them except in bits and pieces as they suffer and bend to their pain and guilt.  Small benevolences of their former character, now seen as the exception to their norm.

They fell from grace because of a small incident, a trip-wire of mortality that could happen to anyone.  And of course that’s the point of the play.  So go see it, and be thankful for the opportunity to walk in the light.

And of course best wishes to Sam Shepard, wherever he is.

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