✭✭✭ | Buried Child
If you want to see Ed Harris sitting on a couch for close to three hours, then Buried Child is the show for you.
Harris, film and television star, is excellent as Dodge, the father of two sons (dysfunctional doesn’t even come close to describing them). He lives in an old, ram shackled dilapidated house in Illinois with his wife Halie (Harris’ real-life wife Amy Madigan), who pops up in the first and third acts. Yes, this play has three acts, with two very quick ten-minute intervals between the acts. The last show I saw that had three acts, (The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures), was very painful to sit through and felt a bit like Chinese water torture. Buried Child, playing at Trafalgar Studios, is not that bad but it still feels like a long show.
Harris does spend the whole time on centre stage, on the sofa, and he’s even on the sofa before the show even starts. Dodge and Halie share their home, unwillingly, with their two grown up sons. They’ve obviously missed the financial gravy train and are unfortunately tethered to their poor lot in life. One son, Bradley (Gary Shelford), never left home, and who continues to bring into the house freshly dug up vegetables from no one knows where because there’s not a garden anywhere near the house. Tilden (Barnaby Kay), who used to live in New Mexico, has returned to the family homestead because of an incident that happened there. It’s up to Halie to be the sane member of the family, this is until their grandson Vince (Jeremy Irvine), son of Tilden, arrives in town with his girlfriend Shelly (Charlotte Hope). Immediately Shelly is uncomfortable in the house full of Vince’s miserable and depressed and sick grandfather, father and uncle. But there is a family secret that’s slightly mentioned which peaks Charlotte’s curiosity, and she wants to find out more. Meanwhile, Vince goes to the grocery store to buy booze for his grandfather because the bottle he had under the couch is missing, and while Charlotte is speaking to Bradley and wanting to know more about this secret and starts nagging a bit too much, he puts his hand into her mouth (at this point if I were her I would’ve run out of that house). But the secret that has doomed this troubled family is literally, and eventually, out of the bag, but not before Vince goes missing for the rest of the night and Halie returns home with the family pastor who’s just as uncomfortable in the house as Charlotte is. But it’s not until the final scene that leaves you with an image that you won’t soon forget.
Buried Child is a very wordy play. perhaps a bit too wordy, but it being a Sam Shepard play, there is lots that is over dramatic, over the top, and bordering close to the unbelievable. Surely cutting out one act would’ve made this play more biting, sharper and dramatic instead of long-winded, but director Scott Elliott is able, just, to keep the drama and tension up, while maintaining, until the very end, the mystery of this family’s tragic existence on earth.
Buried Child is now playing at Trafalgar Studios until February 18, 2017.