BURIED CHILD (EgoPo): A powerful production of a difficult play

Talk about toxic masculinity.
Talk about family drama.
Talk about America’s heartland.
With Buried Child, this powerful production of a difficult play, EgoPo Classic Theater launches its Sam Shepard season.

buried child egopo review image

Merci Lyons-Cox, Damien J Wallace, and Carlo Campbell in BURIED CHILD. Photo by Kylie Westerbeck.

To begin: Lights up on Dodge (Damien J. Wallace, whose natural elegance is transformed here into bedraggled). He is stretched out on a beat-up sofa, covered with a blanket. Is he alive? Is he dead? Depends what you mean by alive or dead. Eventually the coughing gives us an answer. Another answer comes when his unseen wife, Halie (Cathy Simpson, hilarious and terrifying) asks, calling down from upstairs, “What’s it like down there?” Dodge repies, “Catastrophic.”

Catastrophic barely covers it: this family, we discover, is insane, mutilated, vengeful, incestuous and murderous. There is a secret; the play gives us clues but Shepard makes us wait until the end to discover it.

Two grown sons appear: former halfback Tilden (Waler DeShields, big and blank-eyed and scary) and Bradley (Carlo Campbell, one-legged, glaring, also scary). We hear about a third son, Ansel, shot dead by “the Italians” on his honeymoon (so much for that family) who is his mother’s hero; she plans to have a statue erected to his memory with the help of a flirtatious priest (Davey Strattan White) who is no spiritual help or moral guide. So much for religion. The statue will show Ansel standing with “a basketball in one hand and a rifle in the other.” And that statue just about sums it up, especially if we add Bradley’s protest: Ansel never played basketball.

Enter the next generation: grandson Vince (Mark Christie) with his girlfriend Shelly (Merci Lyons-Cox). He’s initially devastated that nobody recognizes him and she is initially frightened at being left alone with these strange men. She’s from L.A.: “stupid country.” (So much for Hollywood.)

Director Dane Eissler manages to navigate the play’s tricky tone: it’s funny and absurd (HaHa?) and violent and dread-filled (Uh-oh!) and the small stage and messy set (designed by Colin McIlvaine) are suitably claustrophobic as dirt from outside creeps in and the lights flicker alarmingly.

It’s very satisfying to see this 1978 play revived; it still speaks to us and, metaphorically, to the American condition. EgoPo’s Buried Child is a fitting testimony to the late, great Sam Shepard, one of America’s finest playwrights.

[EgoPo Classic Theater at the Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th Street at Spring Garden Street] October 23–November 10, 2019;  egopo.org/buried-child

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About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is a recently retired professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was published by Methuen, and she published the essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.