Dysfunctional times infinity
The family portrayed in Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child is not just dysfunctional—it’s dysfunctional times infinity. This is a Midwest farm family with a downward dynasty path and backyard buried secrets, one that is disintegrating at a rapid pace, as it watches its American dream wither and die due to circumstances both beyond and within its control.
Buried Child is also a story that plays with the audience’s emotions, providing unsympathetic characters, storylines and outcomes that are entertaining and highly disturbing (warning!), climaxing with a last-scene reveal that is hinted at, but still packs a punch once delivered. Shepard wrote this look at the pull of family ties, the power of blood relationships and losing the upwardly mobile American dream in 1978 during economic hardships and what he saw as the fragmentation of the traditional family. But the story is just as pertinent today.
Ovation Stage’s production of Buried Child is spot-on, bringing together a talented cast and creative staging, demonstrating, once again, that artistic director Penny Kline knows how to produce challenging, thoughtful theater.
And it also spotlights a remarkable performance by Marcus Daniel as the alcoholic patriarch Dodge, made even more impressive by the fact that Daniel’s portrayal is done entirely while sitting on a couch during the entire three acts. Daniel, who is re-entering the acting profession after a long hiatus, must rely on physical tremors and coughs as he captures the inner demons of his character, resulting in a performance that leaves a long-lasting, haunting impression.
The rest of the cast is just as memorable and disconcerting: Steve Buri as the emotionally crippled son Tilden; John Hopkins as the physically disabled son Bradley; Doug Pieper as grandson Vince, searching for a family he overly romanticizes but never really had; Karen Kearney as Halie, the detached and disturbed matriarch; Amber Lucito as Vince’s girlfriend, the only half-sane member of the group; and Mark Brown as creepy Father Dewis. And, in an inspired addition, violinist Patrick Claypool is a haunting spirit, shadowing characters while playing perturbing tunes and screeches on his instrument, capturing the soundtrack of family dynamics gone way, way wrong.