I have been to many performances of different sorts at Cal Poly and found that many of them get sold out or nearly sold out. So I hoped I was in time to buy a ticket. Yes, I was. Not only that, but it looked like maybe 150 people - maybe well under that - attended that night. We were scattered through the theater but mostly in the first four or five rows.
The set for Buried Child is the inside of an old farm house. The Cal Poly set had an elderly torn couch, some chairs, doors supposedly leading to the kitchen and to the outside porch. Windows show a large expanse of green outside. The play takes place in about a 36-hour period, starting with morning and ending the following morning.
An elderly couple, Dodge and Halie, live in the house with their son, Tilden, who has returned from living in New Mexico, and who appears to be "simple". Tilden's son Vince shows up unexpectedly with his girlfriend Shelley, after an absence of six years. He has apparently fed his girlfriend stories about bucolic life on the farm. We never find out exactly why he left or why he's been away so long without contact, but may be able to guess at some of the answers.
Perhaps expecting a warm reunion, Vince is disappointed to find out that his grandfather and father don't even seem to remember him. His grandmother is "out", meaning she's having some kind of affair with the preacher. Dodge refers to his wife's activities by saying "There's life in the old girl yet, " indicating this liaison doesn't seem to concern him at all.
There is plenty more where this strange behavior came from. To say the family is "dysfunctional" doesn't really begin to explain it. Shelley, an attractive and self-possessed young woman, asks the blunt questions, makes her observations publicly, and garners the appreciation of the old man in the process. It is odd that this curmudgeonly gentleman, who tries to coerce anyone nearby to buy him whiskey that he is not supposed to have, and who has very little nice to say about anyone, actually ends up seeming rather the most sane of the bunch.
The dialogue is unpredictable, often funny, sometimes moving. The family seems to have been affected permanently by an unspeakable secret, hinted at by occasional side comments, and it is the unearthing of this secret that drives the action.
A totally absorbing play, rich with words and intelligence, and featuring a range of good characters. It made me want to read more by Sam Shepard, and I am happy that nakedlove recommended a few specific collections of his plays and poetry. I will be looking for them.
In the first half I sat in the fourth row. A few seats down from me sat two women who laughed at everything, funny or not. I wondered if they knew someone in the play and thought, from some of the lines, that it was a comedy. This wouldn't have been so bad except that one of them had a high-pitched stuttery laugh that made me grit my teeth. After the intermission I found a seat much farther back and to the side, and that helped a little but not enough. Makes me wonder - do her friends ever say anything about that laugh?
Great play, terrific performance. I was especially taken by the young woman who played Shelley, although all were good. Perhaps I just liked the part a lot. I started writing a letter to New Times urging people to go to plays and I may actually finish it. It is distressing that so many people apparently feel that movies have taken over and plays are no longer necessary.