Alienation seems the only adequate word to describe Sam Shepard’s work. In ‘Buried Child’ his characters are condemned by their past to live a life without hope- their dismal future only existing as a place to conceal what has gone before.
Matthew Warchus’s meticulous revival captures the full tragic-comedy of this farming family in Illinois. The family home is bare, the farm no longer cultivated and the men are wacky sub-human individuals. The father Dodge (M. Emmet Walsh) sits on the sofa clandestinely drinking whisky and suffering from fits of uncontrolled coughing; Tilden (Brendan Coyle), the eldest son is obtuse and uncommunicative and mysteriously keeps bringing piles of vegetables into the house and finally Bradley (Sean Murray), the malicious younger son who cut off his own leg with a chainsaw. The mother of this motley group of men is the dry and brittle Helie (Elizabeth Franz), a church going alcoholic who is over familiar with the protestant minister.
The play opens with these four family members trying and failing to communicate, and though they obviously seem far from the normal American nuclear family, their behaviour is feasible, that is until the arrival of their grandson Vince (Sam Troughton) and his girlfriend Shelley (Lauren Ambrose). Suddenly we are plunged into an incongruous world where any resemblance of normality has been shattered.
No one recognises Vince, his protestations of being a family member are met by denial. “I’m nobody’s grandfather – least of all yours,” carps Dodge, as Tilden stares at his son Vince, utterly bemused and without the slightest sign of recognition . Shelley meanwhile discovers that her potential in laws are a group of psychotic misfits!
Is the family secret the cause of its downfall or merely one of its symptoms? Is it some inherited amoral malady that determines the fate of its members? When Vincent is finally recognised by his family he begins to manifest the same psychotic behaviour. In the final scene Tilden carries the remains of the family secret, which he has unearthed to his mother. A fitting metaphor for the buried children in this family!
The whole cast is outstanding, none more so than M. Emmet Walsh’s Dodge, who sits in a dishevelled waspish heap, stinging with his verbal jabs, and Elizabeth Franz’s drunken Helie, whose head is full of delusions.
Shepard has a detrimental view of the nuclear family and this tragic-comedy contains one of its darkest portrayals. The family is a place that buries all its children under the weight of its past. Vince returns to his home to seek happy memories of family life only to discover that no one else shares them, and now he has returned home neither does he.
Production Photo by MANUEL HARLAN
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Buried Child steers a choppy course between black comedy and chilling confessional." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Highly recommended." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Excellent production." CHARLES SPENCER FOR THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Gripping and often wildly funny production." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Matthew Warchus’s uniformly excellent cast kept me appalled and agog, amused and repelled."