Like the stuffing that bursts from the seams of a shabby green sofa, the characters in the Segal Theatre’s production of Buried Child long to break free from the confines of their Illinois farmhouse.
Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play tells the story of Dodge, Halie, Tilden and Bradley, members of a mid-Western American family whose lives have been shattered by a secret that was long buried in the corn fields of their supposedly barren farm. The secret is unearthed when Tilden’s long-lost son Vince returns home after a six-year absence with his girlfriend Shelly, only to discover that no one recognizes him.
Buried Child was written shortly after the Vietnam War, during what director Peter Hinton describes as a time when “playwrights were not looking at the enemy from without, but rather criticizing from within.” Buried Child, like so many of Shepard and his contemporaries’ plays, seeks to dismantle the elusive American dream.
The similarities between the period in which Shepard wrote the play and today have brought new-found relevance to his work. Americans once again find themselves in a period of disillusionment and introspection. They are critical of what Hinton refers to as the “myths of America,” and of their relevance in a time when dreams of the white picket fence have lost their lustre.
The play not only launched Shepard’s career and helped establish him as one of the greatest living American playwrights, but it also brought prominence to the theatre fringe movement.
“Shepard was part of the culture that wanted theatre groups to be part of pop culture,” said Hinton while discussing Shepard’s role in contemporary American theatre.
Buried Child is a play that Hinton says he loves “for its ambiguity, its mixture of absurdity and reality,” yet he acknowledges that it “can be a challenging play for audiences because it poses many questions and doesn’t answer all of them.”
“Actors love Shepard because his characters are so layered and rich,” Hinton said. From David Fox as Dodge, the family patriarch who slowly decays before the flickering light of a soundless television, to Adrienne Gould in the role of Shelly, a young woman who quickly learns her boyfriend’s family is far from what it first appeared to be, Hinton has assembled a company of accomplished actors to act out Shepard’s vision.
Buried Child can be seen at the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre from Feb. 1 to 22. For more information, visit www.segalcentre.org.