Theatre Intime’s production of Sam Sheperd’s Buried Child expertly conveys the balance of terror and humor in the life of a family struggling with a secret. Doug Lavanture ’08, directs a production in which every detail of the family’s life is loaded with the burden of its past. The play consists of bizarre domestic moments leading up to the secret’s confession, when Vince (Jeff Brown), Tilden’s long lost son, and his girlfriend Shelly (Alex Ripp) show up at the family’s dysfunctional doorstep demanding answers.
The play is composed of an interchange of well-timed phrases like, “I had a son once, but we buried him,” and Dodge’s constant request, “can you get me a bottle?” The humorous moments are well-executed: Bradley (Thomas Dollar) walking in to find his father covered in corn husks, Dodge sneaking whisky out from under couch cushions, Bradly and Tilden (Damain Carrieri) wonderingly petting Shelly’s fur coat. The serious (and often disturbing) moments are also well done: authority problems between Vince and Shelly, Tilden discussing his rocky past, Dodge’s final confession. Still, the play could have used a few more moments that were less intense. The audience was hit with a barrage of screams; the impact of the truly climactic moments was watered down. Often it was the subtle interactions (Tilden talking about the rain, Shelly and Dodge discussing soup) which were most effective. The human details in this play make it both hilarious and disturbing. The set—a scruffy couch, a stairwell, a window-view of the porch—is a good setting for a disjointed family and their juxtaposed actions.
The relationships are portrayed as a mixture of feud and compassion. Tilden tucks his ailing father in tenderly, yet proceeds to steal his whisky and cover him in corn husks. Vince puts his hand on Shelly’s waist when she is scared, yet yells at her for peeling carrots. The only relationship that does not capture this balance is that between Dodge and Halie (Elizabeth Abernethy), which is mostly composed of the yelling that comprises much of the production.
These two characters, however, are electrifying on their own. Paulo Quiros (Dodge) ’06, does an excellent job of convincing us he’s a bitter, sick, old man with his rough voice and scowling face. While he could have toned down his grouchy persona at times, his was the best performance of the night.
It is often said that Shepherd does not know how to write roles for women; this is not the case in this production. Theirs were the most attention grabbing presences on stage. Halie demands the attention of both the audience and the other actors as she walks out in her stylish black dress and veil between battered Dodge and mud-covered Tilden. Shelly holds everyone’s attention as a smart, strong-willed girl.
Every role carries its own: Tilden does the best job of conveying a balance between vulnerability and anger, and Vince convincingly plays a boy driven crazy by his family’s insanity. In his final speech about their (and now his) depressing state, he stirringly describes an image he saw in the mirror, “his face changed to his father’s face…same eyes, same nose, same breath…to his grandfather’s face,” continuing to morph into the rest of the family’s male ancestry. This is what Lavanture’s production of Buried Child has achieved; a family’s complicated past is portrayed through the events of one day. It is definitely worth taking a night to see.