Thursday, May 17, 2018

40 Years On in the Heartless Heartland: At Writers Theatre, Sam Shepard's 'Buried Child' Offers More Symbolism Than Scintillation -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Buried Child
by Sam Shepard
directed by Kimberly Senior
Writers Theatre, Glencoe
Thru June 17

In writing theater reviews, all I can fairly do is try to reflect my own perception, enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of a certain show--and actually, a certain production and performance of that show--in the time and place that I saw it.

While I have now seen and reviewed enough works--over 500 different titles--to feel comfortable in forming and sharing opinions in a way that might help others decide how to allot their theater-going time and money, I do not purport to be the most studied of critics.

I am no more right or wrong than anyone else, be it an esteemed critic or random audience member, but I tell it like I see it, not how I'm supposed to see it.

In eagerly attending the opening night of Buried Child at Glencoe's beautiful Writers Theatre, I knew that it was a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by the legendary Sam Shepard--who died last July--first staged in 1978.

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
I'd never seen it, but did once read it, and was somewhat aware of descriptions such as this, from Wikipedia:

"The postmodern style that Shepard uses incorporates surrealism and symbolism in the realistic framework of a family drama."

And in watching it, alongside my pal Ken who doesn't regularly attend theater, I was able to appreciate that the nearly 3-hour, 3-act play takes its time, staying at a solid simmer, unhurried in its exposition until the last 30 minutes or so, by which time my eyelids were starting to droop.

Clearly the acting is excellent, led by Chicago stalwart Larry Yando as Dodge, an old, curmudgeonly alcoholic.

As he sits on his couch--somewhere in downstate Illinois--drinking, smoking and hacking, his banter with Shannon Cochran as his wife Hallie, while she remains unseen in an upstairs bedroom, is delightful, even as it takes its time driving things forward.

By the end of Act I, we learn--if not entirely explicitly--that Dodge and Hallie have three sons: mentally-addled Tilden (Mark Montgomery), crippled & ornery Bradley (Timothy Edward Kane) and previously passed Ansel.

The second act brings their grandson (and Tilden's son) Vince (Shane Kenyon) to the house--well-designed by Jack Magaw--along with Shelly (a terrific Arti Ishak), who is easily the most likable character in this strange show.

I've seen several prior shows directed by Kimberly Senior, and trust that she got the essence out of Shepard's script, which covers a lot on its surface--dysfunctional families, dreams that don't come true--and probably even more beneath it.

Buried Child, whose third act features a charged monologue by Kenyon--that I admittedly didn't catch every word of--is definitely an estimable work, and it provided fodder for considerable post-show discussion between Ken and me.

Any show that slyly addresses disillusionment with the American dream, the antiquated attitudes of a white rural patriarchy and the downturn of family farming clearly has some substance--and this leaves unstated the grim revelation referenced by the play's title.

But it would be disingenuous to imply that I loved this play, one that multiple sources have dubbed a

I just didn't.

At least on my first live encounter. With a production that itself seems quite strong. 

And even Ken, who seemed to get a bit more from Buried Child than I did, really only saw this stellar production as meriting @@@@ (out of 5) at best.

My aim is never to dissuade anyone from seeing a show they are intending to, and that certainly shouldn't be the case here. Writers Theatre regularly does stellar work, and no one should construe that I thought this highly-acclaimed play was "bad."

I just didn't find it as great as I had hoped. 

1 comment:

Ken said...

Buried Child: Brilliant but tarnished treasure.