Buried Child is Sam Shepard at his evocative, mysterious best, and The New Group’s production directed by Scott Elliott impressively captures the spirit of this challenging play. The great mistake of approaching a play like this would be to attempt to impose manufactured interpretation, but Elliott and his stellar cast – each of whom manage to make their decidedly peculiar characters believable, relatable, and ultimately pitiable – are wise enough to avoid such an urge. Instead they dwell in all the strangeness that envelopes the play’s world. The result is a slow, meticulous, at times wrenching two-hour production that refuses audiences any respite from its characters’ tortured world. It offers instead only mystery upon mystery, drawing us expertly into its unsettling starkness.
The play, which won Shepard the 1979 Pulitzer, centres on an Illinois family lead by an elderly and disinterested Dodge (Harris), who does little more over the course of the play than sit on the centre-stage couch, sip liquor from a concealed bottle, and comment on the absurdities rolling out around him. Harris shows us clearly and with aplomb that Dodge has already lived a life of monumental struggle, and would like nothing more than to ride out his time with a bottle on the couch. His wife Halie (Amy Madigan), though, will allow no such resignation. She has little interest in spending time with Dodge, and is more than likely having an affair with her priest Father Dewis (Larry Pine), but she remains deeply invested in at least conversing about the trappings of family life with Dodge. All the characters in this play are haunted by the spectre of family and its potential, but Madigan shows clearly that Halie is the one most concerned with carrying on the charade of happiness, even in the face of profound disillusionment. When two outsiders show up unexpectedly, an already tense domestic situation to devolve is seemingly beyond repair.
In the middle of the ebbing and flowing storm remains Harris’s Dodge, one of Shepard’s greatest creations, who seems perhaps the most tortured of the characters because he is the most alert. Harris is excellent in capturing Dodge’s great disillusionment with his family and the life around it, as well as his powerful disappointment that he cannot successfully escape. For the most part Dodge allows others to exist in their damaged psyches, but Harris underscores powerfully the character’s persistent inability to disengage.
The play takes place in one room expertly designed by Derek McLane, whose eye for dankness suits this play well. The house is like the family that inhabits it: damaged through rough use, but resigned (or doomed) to persist. Elliott and his cast fully embrace the despair of this space, leaving us with a haunting and captivating view into a seemingly limitless genealogy of domestic suffering.
Buried Child is on until 3rd April 2016. Click here for details.