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Buried Child
You don't leave this house for a second without the Devil blowing in the front door — Halie
Buried Child
L. to R. Sherman Howard, Paul Cooper, Roger Clark (Photo Credit: Jerry Dalia)
Although Sam Shepard's s 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child is originally comprised of three acts, the playwright's rewrites for the 1996 Broadway run and its subsequent Off Broadway revival in 2016 made it clear that one and even no intermission was the best way to present a play that runs less than two hours. Whatever reason director Paul Mullins has for restoring two intermissions in this production by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, the play, despite strong performances, suffers by appearing needlessly choppy. The result is that this great play's impact is seriously compromised.

Despite my quibbling, it is easy to be amused as we wallow in the horrific specifics of a prodigal's homecoming to end all homecomings. Be prepared to be led from one shock to another.

I will intentionally avoid alluding to the metaphors and the symbolism that presumably reflect the decline of the American Dream. Let's just get to the chase and say that this is a play that dances dangerously and skillfully about its characters' darkest fears, dirtiest deeds and nastiest secrets.

If this is/was the recently deceased Shepard's America, so be it. Thanks to his gift to dispense gab that is both earthy and surreal as well as his knack for tantalizing us with veiled intimations, Buried Child is, if nothing else, an unsettling dazzler.

Set within a farmhouse in Illinois, the play's couch-bound, whisky-besotted grizzly grandfather Dodge (a terrific Sherman Howard) sits alone cursing the world; between times he hurls a litany of insults upstairs to his wife Halie (Carol Halstead). Count on her grating-voice to give this role a wonderfully irritating resonance just short of screeching. She lets her character's near constant barrage of disjointed dictums prepare us early on for the hell and havoc to follow.

The actions of Tilden (Anthony Marble) their stultified, mentally-askew son seem aimless. Yet he is able to locate matured corn and carrots on the family's otherwise long-barren farm. Another son Bradley (Roger Clark, excellent) is vicious and menacing, but reduced to a simpering wimp when deprived of his artificial leg. Before grandmother comes back from a possible overnight tryst with the local minister (Michael Dale) the long absent grandson Vince (Paul Cooper) has arrived with his jittery girlfriend Shelley (Andrea Morales) at the dilapidated farmhouse. That he is unrecognized by anyone and that their visit is unwelcomed is to put it mildly. That she is increasingly perplexed if not terrified but what is going on adds to the chaos afoot.

Director Mullins gives every creep his day as a power struggle reveals a dark family secret. Magnified by its grim farmhouse set, for which designer Michael Schweikardt provides the first ever stairway up to hell, Buried Child does its job to unnerve and perplex. Thanks to the aggressive acting of the ensemble this astonishing play, despite the unnecessary and irritating intermissions, never ceases to be great fun.

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Buried Child by Sam Shepard
Directed by Paul Mullins
Cast: Sherman Howard (Dodge), Carol Halstead (Halie), Anthony Marble (Tilden), Roger Clark (Bradley), Paul Cooper (Vince), Andrea Morales (Shelly), Michael Dale (Father Dewis)
Scenic Designer: Michael Schweikardt
Costume Designer: Andrea Hood
Lighting Designer: Tony Galaska
Sound Designer: Erik T. Lawson
Production Stage Manager: Jackie Mariani
Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes including two intermissions
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Main Stage, 36 Madison Avenue (on the campus of Drew University at Lancaster Road), Madison, N.J.
Performances: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7:30 pm; Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm; Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.
From 09/19/18 Opened 09/22/18 Ends 10/07/18
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 09/25/18

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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