“Buried Child” in name alone sounds dark and twisted, but transformed to fit the stage, the darkness only has room to expand.
As the Theater Department’s first mainstage production of the semester, Sam Shepard’s fragmented drama, directed by Associate Professor Frank Trezza, transformed the thrust stage of Parker Theatre into a quaint, Illinois farmhouse filled with dysfunction.
Among the metaphors strewn about the production, the most clear one lies within its title. “Buried Child” can be taken both literally and figuratively, as viewers realize throughout the course of the anecdotal banter tossed around onstage from actor to actor.
The family around which the story is centered has buried a “baby” breathing life littered with ideals, be it religious loyalty, the preservation of the American dream, or otherwise.
The production’s sole setting in this family’s home paired with the lack of familiarity — literally and figuratively — among those residing in it posed an interesting juxtaposition that helped carry the play through.
Actor and audience member alike seemed perpetually trapped in this small plot of land where dirty secrets lay buried within its own backyard — even further making a prisoner of its residents.
The play’s plotline, though tirelessly enigmatic and riddled with dark, comedic moments during which audience members seemed to laugh out of sheer pity than genuine amusement, kept viewers on their toes.
Keeping with the production’s natural pace and tone, the actors followed suit — quick to act and react when retelling a disturbing anecdote, or better yet, when trying to prevent that retelling.
Characters were disturbingly pronounced and each almost seemed as if they were engrossed in their own world of either regret, denial, nostalgia, or a painful mixture of the three.
Particularly impressive was third-year theater performance major Max Singer, who played Tilden, son of the production’s patriarch and a clearly shaken character overall. Singer’s ability to command the stage with no more than a far-off stare and a helpless tone was just as beautiful as it was heart-wrenching.
Another actor whose ability to become engrossed in his character was effortless was third-year theater performance major Paul Boothroyd, who played Dodge, the patriarch of the family.
The same far-off stare that littered his onstage son’s eyes was present in his own, and his whiskey-guzzling, quick-witted, unfiltered persona created almost a caricature that more likely than not reminded viewers of at least one senile member of their family.
Where Boothroyd lacked an Illinois accent, he made up for in being the production’s dark comic relief, which, with subject matter as dense and raw as this, is undeniably necessary.
Although this play is not meant to entertain, it was shockingly refreshing to see. “Buried Child,” much like one of my favorite dark comedies, “August: Osage County,” in simple terms, tells the story of a family’s reaction.
The event stays the same, but the coping mechanisms from one relative to another change. Each family member is broken in their own way, and each holds that far-off stare when met with a memory.
The production through my eyes is not so much about progression as it is about developing an understanding of characters and their development and motives. It is one an audience member leaves shaken from, but in the most necessary of ways. 3/4 stars.