It has taken me a week to ponder and digest the current production of Sam Shepard's 1979 Pulitzer Prize winning play "Buried Child" at A Noise Within in Pasadena. The elements are engaging and knowing some of the circumstances of Shepard's life: his childhood and his passions interfere a bit with getting a solid take on director Julia Roderiquez-Elliott's production. I've read that this production may not be the same script as the original.
Unfortunately, I've learned that ANW company stalwart, Apollo Dukakis, who portrayed Father Dewis, the apologetic paramour of Halie (wonderful Deborah Strang) in the play has left the cast. In the performance I attended, Father Dewis in what may have been a missed cue, took a violent fall to the floor. Dukakis continued and finished the show, but his tumble put him out of the play, which is a shame.
Siblyl Wickersheimer's appropriate set is seedy and reflective of the dire situation at hand. Dodge (Geoff Elliott) is dying. For reasons that are unclear, a reading lamp shines directly into the eyes of the audience. Dodge sits, sneaking shots from a concealed bottle and shouting back and forth with Halie who is upstairs preparing for her tryst with Father Dewis.
Shepard's symbols that lead to Dodge's unapologetic revelation of the disposal of an unwanted child, which may have been the result of an incestuous connection between his son Tilden (Michael Manuel) and Halie are vague but revealing. Tilden has suffered a trauma: never explained, that has returned him from New Mexico back to the family farm in Illinois. His entrance with an armful of corn that has mysteriously appeared behind the house when Dodge declares that there have been no crops since 1935, shows both his physical and mental infirmity. Time slips and slides.
Another brother, Bradley (Frederick Stuart) comes to cut Dodge's hair. Bradley has, inexplicably, cut off his own leg with a chain saw, leaving him sporting a wooden prosthesis. The haircut literally wounds Dodge. Talk of a statue for a third son, Ansle, now dead, shows that the other sons have never been favored by Halie.
The depths of Shepard's issues with his own father and the symbolic destruction of Dodge, wasting away, but still the heavy handed patriarch, expand with the arrival of Tilden's son, Vince (Zach Kenney) and his floozy girlfriend Shelley (Angela Gulner). They have stopped by on their way to New Mexico where they expected to find Tilden. Initially, Dodge denies knowing Vince, but in time not only recognizes his grandson but as Dodge lays dying, bequeaths the house and in an eloquesnt laundry list some of the equipment to the boy. This then, anchors Vince to the land.
In an unexplained turn, Vince heads off with Dodge's money to secure a "bottle" for him. Meanwhile, Shelley declares in an obtuse way that she may belong here after all. When Vince returns, drunk and raging, the original script called for him to cut through a screen and destroy it when eventually entering the house. In Rodriguerez-Elliott's version, he climbs through a window.
The archetypes that the Shepard provides: The patriarch, the matriarch, the prodigal son, the virgin/whore, the innocent/guilty son, the bully, the failure of religion.. are all fodder for heavy discussion. Reading the text and comparing it to the production at A Noise Within is enlightening and helpful. In all, the powerhouse performance of Strang's Halie and Dukakis's subtle approach to Dewis, bring their characters fully to life. Not to say the others are not doing good work, but this piece calls for a visceral commitment that Halie and Dewis project in the most committed way.
Buried Child by Sam Shepard
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Blvd.
Through November 23, 2019