(Reviewed for Whatsonstage.com)
An elderly man in a baseball cap sits on a squalid sofa in an exhausted living room, watching TV and personifying irritation as his wife gabbles cheerfully from another room. Gradually, other members of the family appear: a strangely disturbed middle-aged son with armfuls of freshly picked corn, another son with one leg and a manic look about him. Mother goes off to see her priest. Father grumbles with splenetic gusto then sleeps. First son steals his whiskey. Suddenly a young man and his beautiful girlfriend arrive, bringing a gust of freshness to the dilapidated scene. Then, all hell breaks loose.
From unpromising material, Sam Shepard forges a titanic tale of collapsing rural America, encapsulated in a family of breathtaking dysfunctionality. Now 30 years old, Buried Child emphatically still works as a critique of the American Dream and its inability to stand up to reality. Through the perspective of the girlfriend, Shelly, in a sharp performance by Tala Gouveia, the audience sees the failure of the characters to adopt the wholesome roles of the traditional American family we hold in our imaginations. This ‘aint no Waltons. Mother is a tramp and worse, Father (an excellent John Atterbury) a manipulative SOB, the sons, the opposite of heroes, and the next generation in the form of the fresh-faced grandson (Joe Jameson) doesn’t look likely to turn things around. As Shelly leaves, we hope that she, intelligent and brave, will represent a better future.
Buried Child moves deftly between farce, poignancy and horror and etches itself into the mind. Though the first act could pick up pace, this accomplished production, directed by Timothy Trimingham Lee is highly recommended.