Family Dirt Takes The Stage

Photo courtesy of Jack Wade.
Photo courtesy of Jack Wade.
Photo courtesy of Jack Wade.

A post-modern, surrealist twist on the disintegration of the American dream will usher in the New Paltz Theater Department’s season as Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” graces the stage of Parker Theatre.

Written and set in the 1970s, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play follows the lives of a dysfunctional Illinois family who is plagued by a secret, according to Associate Professor and the production’s director, Frank Trezza.

Trezza said the drama, which also serves as Shephard’s criticism of American myths and the quintessential American dream, features iconic American images in its landscape.

Fourth-year theater performance major Robin Epes plays Haley, the mother of the family, and said her character holds an incredible amount of guilt for many things she’s done but has since buried under layers of denial.

“She definitely is guilty of simultaneously tearing the family apart and keeping them together,” Epes said.

Haley is married to Dodge, played by third-year theater performance major Paul Boothroyd, who said his character is a “decrepit man near the end of his days…consumed by alcoholism and his past.”

Both Epes’ and Boothroyd’s characters are well over the age of the actors — Epes’ character is in her 60s and Boothroyd’s is in his 70s.

“Out of the seven characters, only two have actors age appropriate. Everyone else is playing a character older than themselves. Theater is all about suspension of disbelief,” Boothroyd said “The way ‘into’ a character is always different for me, I have to circle the character and find my way in. With Dodge, the way in really lies [with] the voice and the physicality. Playing someone in their 70s presents many physical challenges to enjoy.”

Trezza said the production, like many contemporary shows with post-modern elements, does not follow a linear plot line.

“Theme and character are more at the forefront,” Trezza said. “It doesn’t unfold in a conventional way.”

The play, which seems like a “complex puzzle,” according to Epes, creates extremely detailed, deep characters and follows a pattern of “circular deterioration” which refrains from neatly answering the who, what, where, when and why of the plot.

“The language is absolutely beautiful,” Epes said. “It builds rich complex characters. A lot is left up to the director and actors themselves to fill in the blanks.”

Melanie Gabel, who plays the only non-family member, Shelly, said Shepard’s style of writing leaves room for interpretation.

“Sam Shepard does a really great job of writing lines that don’t have any clarification in them,” Gabel, a third-year theater performance major, said. “Almost every fact a character says is called a lie by another character or has a statement made by someone else that claims the opposite. Therefore, you never know what is actually true in this world of the play.”

Boothroyd sums up the dark, reflective tone of the production by suggesting that if an audience wants to be entertained, to watch a musical.

“If you want to be engaged,” Boothroyd said, “Watch ‘Buried Child.’”

The production will run in Parker Theatre from Thursday, Feb. 27 through Sunday, March 2 and Thursday, March 6 through Sunday, March 9 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and a matinee show at 2 p.m. on Sunday.