Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Palm Beach Dramaworks presents Sam Shepard's Buried Child at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre. As a leader of avant-garde, contemporary theatre, Shepard's plays are often outside the category of mainstream American theatrical fare. His settings are frequently amidst some vague, dingy part of the American Plains states. His characters are usually troubled, emotionally isolated members of a larger dysfunctional family unit. And the language with which he writes features a dark sense of humor, and a generally perverse view of interpersonal relationships that are intentionally designed to be disturbing. His intelligent brand of satire and symbolism can be thought-provoking for all, but understandably just disturbing for others.
A point in case is the following conversation overheard in the lobby after the show on the night attended:
Shepard can have that effect. You put on your thinking cap, sit back, watch closely and feel as though you've witnessed a bizarre but brilliant observation on the American family, even though you sometimes suspect you may have missed a few things. Some theatregoers may feel they've missed more than a few things, and/or may just not want to think that hard to be entertained. For that reasonand that reason alonethis production of Buried Child may not be the top choice for everyone's evening out. I have an odd fondness for the play as it was one of the school productions I saw in college, and recall mulling over the details for days after I'd seen it. So, do be prepared to wear your thinking cap before you sit back for this beautifully acted and directed Buried Child at Palm Beach Dramaworks.
The set is a house interior designed by Jeff Modereger in as much dusty disrepair as are its residents. Paul Tei admirably masters the challenge of finding the strength of the character of Tilden through his focused silences. His character is a pensive, fun-house mirror reflecting the hidden truths of those around him with a twisted clarity. While he remains more than slightly off, he is somehow without menacewisely leaving that quality for actor David Nail as Tilden's brother Bradley. Though Nail spends much of his time on stage in pursuit of his prosthetic limb, he manages to capture the creepy feeling of a predator only temporarily detained.
A talented Angie Radosh is the enigmatic Halie. Wife of Dodge and mother to Tilden and Bradley, she demonstrates no emotional connection to those roles. Attractively clad in her sunny yellow ensemble, she speaks cheerily to Father Dewis of superficial matters that seem to hold the gloom of reality at bay. And while not a cold person in general, she shows no warmth for her family. Perhaps this is because of her betrayal to her family years earlier that may have set in motion the disintegration currently underway.
As Tilden's son Vince, Cliff Burgess quickly unravels as a cool, pulled together musician on a road trip to reconnect with his family when faced with the inexplicable mess in which he finds them. Though he seeks some warmth and recognition, he finds confusion and conflict. It believably leaves him wounded and wary. As Vince's girlfriend Shelly, Olivia Gilliatt provides the voice of sanity. Shelly is happy without being shallow, and actually the most open-hearted and forgiving character on stage. For that we cannot help but like her. In the end she is the only one who manages to remain emotionally unscathed.
I'm not sure I can accurately describe the performance of actor Rob Donohoe as he does justice to the role of Dodge. His red-eyed, phlegm-laden delivery of a crotchety, resentful and guilt-ridden man knowingly nearing the end of his life is unnervingly real. He seems more like a man who has been plopped right onto the tattered couch located center stage, rather than an actor hired to play the role. His performance as Dodge is nothing short of impeccable acting. It is worth the price of admission just to watch Donohoe torturously grumble and twitch his way toward Dodge's final exit.
Buried Child premiered at Theater for the New City in New York City on October 19, 1978. It won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and firmly established Shepard as a respected playwright. The show was revived for a two-month run at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in 1996 following a production at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in 1995. That production was nominated for five Tony Awards.
Sam Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers IV on November 5, 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Outside of his stage work, he has achieved fame as an actor, writer, and director in the film industry. As a playwright he has written over 45 plays, eleven of which have won Obie Awards. His many awards and honors, in 1986 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 1992 he received the Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.
This production of Buried Child will be appearing at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre through April 26, 2015. The theatre is located at 201 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. For information you can reach them by phone at 561-514-4042, 561-514-4042, or online at www.palmbeachdramaworks.org .
Palm Beach Dramaworks is a professional, not-for-profit theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors and actresses. Their goal is to engage and entertains audiences with provocative and timeless productions that personally impact each individual.
*Indicates a member of Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
**Indicates a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, a national theatrical labor union.
Photo: Alicia Donelan