Buried Child – review
Sunday 20 November 2011 00.06 GM
o say that the action of Sam Shepard's 1978 Pulitzer prize-winning play revolves around the death of a child is hardly a plot spoiler. The title tells us everything, yet nothing. Sure, there was a child and it was buried; we learn where it lies and how it got there; we even get to know a bit about the why of its death. However, even though this is the big "secret" shared by four of the characters, Shepard's jagged dramatic form does not rely on suspense to rivet interest. Plot, as Paul Kerryson's incisive and insightful direction shows, is less important than the complex, tortured relationships between the aged mother and father, their two adult sons, a visiting grandson, his girlfriend and a local priest.
Matthew Kelly excels as Dodge in Sam Shepard's Buried Child.
Photograph: Johan Persson
Shepard's writing here poses a challenge to actors. The vivid dialogue, its everyday language vibrating with mythic resonances, shuffles rapidly between comedy, horror and tragedy. These characters make split-second shifts from naturalism to grand guignol via melodrama. Most of this strong cast rise to meet it, but Matthew Kelly's wily, desolate patriarch, Dodge, deserves special mention.
Paul Wills's set gives perfect form to Shepard's ideas. The opening of a masking curtain reveals tall ranks of maize stalks covering the stage (a farm in Illinois). Almost hidden among them is a battered sofa on which sits an old man (Dodge) in a red baseball cap. Slowly, the corn rises above him on a pallet of wooden slats which then tilts back to become a sloping ceiling above a naturalistically shabby room looking out over a veranda. House and man are simultaneously on, above and under the ground. The living and the dead are inextricably bound.