Sam Shepard’s Buried Child is equal parts dark-humoured and despondent. Set in Illinois 1978 and inspired by the collapse of the ‘American Dream’, it tells a story of a broken family and their struggle to deal with a heartbreaking secret.
The entire play is worked around a single set, the family’s living room. It opens with Dodge, portrayed by the Oliver award-winning Matthew Kelly who is brilliantly believable in his role as the haggardly, desperate and empty man. He cuts a pathetic and lonely figure, the lighting and the sound of rain only add to the eerie, ghostly atmosphere. This atmosphere of sadness, with the abiding sense of pain, is felt through out the play and in every character.
We meet Halie, Dodge’s wife, and then the couple’s sons Tilden and Bradley. When Tilden’s son Vince and his girlfriend Shelley arrive no-one, neither his father nor grandfather, recognises him.
It is through Shelley’s probing and constant questioning that the audience learns the dark secret that the family has been keeping. Shelley, as one of the two non-family characters, represents the outsider and thus the audience. She is as confused as we are as to why Tilden does not remember his own son and Dodge his grandson.
The play builds to a moment of climax as the all-consuming secret is revealed to the audience and we feel the shock and pain and disgust that the director intends us to feel.
As the play draws to an end and Vince is finally recognised by his family, the sense of sorrow and the over-whelming ambience of pity for the characters remain. And yet we glimpse a ray of hope from the Halie’s closing words. ‘You can’t force a thing to grow. You can’t interfere with it. It’s all hidden. It’s all unseen. You just gotta wait til it pops up out of the ground. Tiny little shoot. Tiny little white shoot. All hairy and fragile. Strong enough. Strong enough to break the earth even. It’s a miracle.’
When written in 1978 Buried Child was intended to reflect America’s woes regarding the struggling economy and perceived failure of the ‘American Dream’ and our era’s current state of financial collapse and economic uncertainty makes the play somewhat relevant to our society. The brilliant acting and directing along with a gripping story that will have you intrigued are all reasons to go and watch Buried Child at Leicester’s Curve Theatre, it is on now until December 3rd.
Note, strong language.
To purchase tickets and for further information visit the Curve website www.curveonline.co.uk, or alternatively call the box office on 0116 242 3595.