Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

American Conservatory Theatre Presents Sam Shepard's Buried Child

The American Conservatory Theatre is presenting as its final show of the 2001-02 season, a revival of Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Buried Child, which runs through July 14. It is a mesmerizing production of the 1978 classic about one of the most dysfunctional families on the American stage.

Buried Child was first produced in 1978 at our Magic Theatre, and it had an unforgettable restaging at ACT in 1979. The drama played the Theatre De Lys in Greenwich Village for 152 performances in 1978 where it won the Pulitzer Prize for best drama that year. The savage play had a revival in New York in 1996 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with James Gammon, Lois Smith and Terry Kinney. It received raved reviews. Today, it is considered Mr. Shepard's finest work.

The folks in this primordial play are brutish and much more dangerous than the average dysfunctional families you see on the stage. However, this is a very funny, high energy play and the actors in this revival are all excellent.

The brilliant play is about a family both torn apart and brought together by a deep secret. Vince, who has not seen his family in six years, shows up at his grandparents' farmhouse in Illinois for a surprise visit. He brings his girlfriend Shelly to this crazy menagerie. At first Shelly looks at the family and says "It's like a Norman Rockwell cover or something," but, oh how wrong she is. Both Vince and Shelly begin to realize through some strange encounters that this family is quite a bit different from the normal American Rockwell family. In fact, the family does not even recognize Vince. Through dogged investigation, Shelly begins unraveling the family secret that has been so deeply buried.

Buried Child explores father-son relationships and the place women hold in the enigmatic domestic atmosphere. The play is severely poetic, humorous and mysterious. There is deep symbolism in each of the characters.

John Seitz, who has appeared in many roles in New York, is penetrating as Dodge, the patriarch of the clan. He is a boozy, cantankerous person who spends most of his life lying on an old beat up couch. Frances Lee McCain, who has appeared in many films, plays Halie, his overripe wife, who talks incisively about nothing important (she is also somewhat of a flirt with a local minister). These two make a fine bickering couple. In the opening ten minutes Ms. McCain does all of her "acting" off stage left. It is a babbling chatter of nothing while Dodge half listens without any interest.

The children are also very eccentric. Marco Marricelli gives a polished performance as Tilder, the father of Vince, who was a big time college football star before something happened to him while living in New Mexico. He has returned home a lost soul and a somewhat mentally deranged person who wants to meditate in his parents' home. Bradley, played by Robert Parsons, is a one legged psychopath and exudes a certain creepiness. Neil Hopkins as the lean and lanky Vince is good in the role but he tends to overact in the third act.

Rene Augesen is vivacious at Shelly. Her key role guides the audience in her trepidations and sympathies of the character. Steven Anthony Jones, a member of the ACT core company, has a small role as Father Dewis. He is delightful as the preacher who will not confront the dysfunctions of the family.

The set is a run down, gritty, realistic room in a dilapidated farm house. The walls are stepped to the bases and there is a large row of torn screen windows.

This production of Buried Child runs through July 14. Tickets can be obtained by called 415749-2228 or visiting

Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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