Saturday, April 25, 2009

Buried Child by Sam Shepard, Southwestern University, April 22 - 26

Sam Shephard's Buried Child gives such a strange, phantasmagoric world that one's first impulse might be to play it for laughs. In Shephard's introduction to the printed edition he speaks of revising the text for the 1995 Steppenwolf theatre company in Chicago and of director Gary Sinese's "instinct to push the characters and situation in an almost burlesque territory, which suddenly seemed right."

At Southwestern University, director Jared J. Stein and his exemplary young ensemble of players create Shephard's horrible world without a trace of mockery. We are obliged to take seriously this collection of incomprehensibly distorted and injured individuals, and the result approaches the seriousness and purpose of classical tragedy.

This ample but claustrophobic farmhouse exists in an undefined locale, in a state of malaise. Ill, coughing, and stationary on the sofa is Dodge, a foul-tempered old man who swills whiskey on the sly; his wife Halie is at first unseen, heard from upstairs in a long, self-preoccupied nagging litany. Two grown sons eventually appear. Tilden, a raw stunned man in a glistening yellow rainslicker and mud-caked boots; and later, Bradley, a one-legged brute and coward who regularly sneaks into the house at night to give his sleeping father Dodge haircuts with the brutality of a sheep-shearer. Halie leaves in the first act to call on clergyman Father Dewis and in Act Three, the next day, returns with Dewis in tow, chatting with unseemly familiarity and bearing a bouquet of yellow roses.

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