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“Buried Child” is Revived (Somewhat)
Directed by Scott Elliot
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42 Street
Opened Feb. 17, 2016
Tickets: $25-$115 (212) 279-4200
Closes: closing April 3, 2016
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 10, 2016
There are people who love Sam Shepard and people who don’t. Full disclosure: I’m one of those who doesn’t. So there is every chance I would not like The New Group’s revival of “Buried Child” no matter how wonderful the acting, the direction and the set.
For this reviewer, Shepard’s weird mix of absurdity and dysfunction in this family drama is both oppressive and unnecessarily distasteful. And director Scott Elliot’s decision to eliminate an intermission hardly made the show more bearable.
Paul Sparks and Ed Harris in Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child,” directed by Scott Elliott, Off-Broadway at The New Group. Photo credit: Monique Carboni. www.thenewgroup.org.
Even more important, I find it hard to understand why I (or any other person in the audience) should care about an alcoholic father (Ed Harris as Dodge), his openly promiscuous wife (Amy Madigan as Halie) and their two mentally disturbed children, the one-legged Vince (Nat Wolff), who gives his father savage haircuts while the man sleeps and Tilden (Paul Sparks) who spends most of his time harvesting corn and carrots from the yard even though both his parents insist no such vegetables have ever been planted. But no matter, as long as the audience gets the not-so-subtle lesson: we reap what we sow.
As the depth and breadth of the family’s depravity become more evident, there are constant hints of an even more sinister secret buried in the backyard. But by the time we find out what that is, we are so overloaded with shocking revelations this final disclosure doesn’t seem to matter.
Rich Sommer, Taissa Farmiga, Paul Sparks in Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child,” directed by Scott Elliott, Off-Broadway at The New Group. Photo credit: Monique Carboni. www.thenewgroup.org.
In this hellish world, the only character who is consistent throughout is Dodge, and indeed Harris gives the man a strange humor that borders on the likable. The other characters careen so wildly from scene to scene, it’s almost impossible to evaluate the actors by any traditional standards.
However, none of the other actors measure up to the standard Harris has set. Rich Sommer, playing Tilden’s son, who returns home only to find he is not recognized by his own father and grandfather, and Taissa Farmiga, who is his silly and clueless girlfriend, Shelly, seem particularly lost in their roles.
L-R: Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Rich Sommer, Amy Madigan, Larry Pine in Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child,” directed by Scott Elliott, Off-Broadway at The New Group. Photo credit: Monique Carboni. www.thenewgroup.org.
After Harris, the next best feature of the show is Derek McLane’s set, which perfectly captures the rundown seediness of the family’s home in rural Illinois. This is a home impoverished in both material goods and spirit.
“Buried Child” so impressed critics and audiences back in 1979 that it won the Pulitzer Prize. As with so many Pulitzer Prize-winning works, years later it doesn’t seem so impressive. As the shock value fades the flaws in the plot and characterizations seem to grow.
After the dust settles on this “Buried Child,” one must ask, who cares?
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