From a young woman fending off her boyfriend’s relatives with his uncle’s prosthetic leg, to the drunken boyfriend violently hurling beer bottles across the front porch, the Segal Theatre’s Buried Child is a play that both violates and enthralls the senses with its at times absurd depiction of familial discord in the American mid-west.
On their way to see his father in New Mexico, Vincent and his girlfriend Shelly decide to pay a visit to his grandparents at their Illinois farmhouse. Unbeknownst to Vincent, his father Tilden, a shell of the man he once was, has also recently returned to the farm. Vincent’s hopes of a warm reception by his family are quickly shattered when it becomes apparent that his grandfather Dodge and his father do not recognize him.
An agitated Vincent makes off into the night, leaving Shelly behind to uncover the secret that has all but destroyed his family.
Under Peter Hinton’s direction, Sam Shepard’s 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning play has been given new life. As the play progresses, not only do the characters and the complexities of their relationships evolve, but the actors themselves seem to grow into their roles.
David Fox steals the show in his unassuming portrayal of Dodge, a shriveled old man who, while quite literally sinking into the living room sofa, delivers some of the plays wittiest lines. Fox’s performance alone could carry the play; however he is supported by a cast who each bring an almost frightening intensity to their roles.
Randy Hughson, as Tilden, brings a childish innocence to a character that is not all there. When he is accused of stealing corn from a neighbouring field and is told to put it back he replies, “It’s picked, once it’s picked you can’t put it back.” A line that in a way parallels the wrong that has been done and cannot be undone in his own life.
Shelly, portrayed by Adrienne Gould, a regular on the Stratford stage, is in essence the play’s link to the outside world, to normalcy. The giggling, almost naive Shelly who enters the farmhouse, is not the one who leaves it with very little to laugh about.
The farmhouse itself, as created by set and costume designer Eo Sharp, captures the ambiance of the time and place, however the actors at times seem overwhelmed by the sheer size of the space.
The production’s startlingly effective use of sound and silence empress upon the audience the isolation of the home and its inhabitants, while at the same time separating periods of absurdity from those rich in insight and revelation.
What is remarkable about Shepard’s work, and of this production, is the incredible transformation that occurs over a span of less than 24 hours. From a rainy night emerges a new day, and while the rain cannot fully wash away the family’s sins, daylight brings with it a glimmer of hope.
Buried Child will be in town until Feb. 22, at the Segal Centre, 5170 C