“I don’t know what the American Dream is. I do know it doesn’t work.” Sam Shepard
I have a confession to make…I’m not a huge fan of dark comedies. They’re usually too dark (so the comedy is lost) or too comedic (so the darkness seems silly.) Thankfully there are exceptions to every rule, and one such exception is currently being performed by Iron Age Theatre at the Centre Theater in Norristown.
BURIED CHILD is a 1978 play written by Sam Shepard, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979. The story is complex, yet very easy to follow for the most part. Dodge (Dave Fiebert) and Hallie (Michelle Pauls at her shrewish best) are in their home on a failed farm in Illinois. Dodge is not well, and Hallie is upstairs yelling at him, carrying on a strange conversation. We hear about the couples’ sons; Ansel, the youngest who was supposedly the model son until murdered (allegedly by his Catholic wife) on their wedding night, Bradley (Luke Moyer) the middle son who is an amputee and cuts Dodge’s hair while he sleeps, and Tilden (Chuck Beishl) the oldest who is mentally not well and who is banned from New Mexico for an undiscussed incident that makes him return home. Later we meet Vince (Eric Wunsch), Tilden’s son who arrives for a visit with his girlfriend Shelly (Gina Martino.) At first no one recognizes Vince, and Shelly is dumbfounded by the strangeness of the family she is exposed to for the first time. As the play progresses, we are made aware of a secret that the family has kept for many years, involving Tilden, Hallie, and a dark secret. There is much more, but it’s better seen than described…and see it you should.
The performances in this production are universally solid. Fiebert and Pauls work beautifully together, their lines bouncing back and forth like the prototypical “old married couple.” Beishl allows us to see both the mental imbalance and the pain behind Tilden…top notch performance there. Moyer is appropriately disturbing as Bradley, a powderkeg ready to explode. Wunsch is excellent as Vince, at first trying to keep everyone calm in the midst of confusion, and then a total turnaround later in the play. Martino dazzled as Shelly, her character the only “normal” person and the audience’s anchor…her early confusion, later evolving into a desire to blend in, and final frustrations were very well developed and believable. Ray Saraceni as the lascivious Reverend Dewis was appropriately sleazy and confused.
Direction by Randall Wise and John Doyle was spot-on…they have a feel for the material that translated beautifully to the stage. The set was beautiful, a ramshackle house with an enclosed porch upstage that allowed the audience to see everything and hear everything that takes place out there, yet keeps the audience safe from flying glass (you’ll have to come see it to find out why there’s flying glass!) Lighting was well done, albeit a bit heavy handed when changing levels for effect…perhaps a slower fade would be more effective.
I strongly recommend this production…I also strongly recommend that you do a bit of homework prior to seeing it. The program that they hand out includes a large part of a study guide that is also available online (Google “Buried Child” to find it.) I found it to be very helpful understanding some parts of the play. However, you can still enjoy this wonderful production even without preparation.
Comedy by Sam Shepard
Directed and Designed by Randall Wise & John Doyle
March 21 – April 13, 2014
Iron Age Theatre
Centre Theater of Norristown
208 Dekalb Pike, Norristown PA 19401