By Rob Buffum
In 1978 Sam Shepard wrote “Buried Child,” a play about the American dream gone wrong. Thirty-six years later, DCCC students and faculty bring to life this timeless classic that still speaks to us from the grave today.
Assistant professor of drama, Stephen Smith, assisted by Elise Marx, directed the play. Set design was by John Galla, a former DCCC professor.
The play is set in an old rundown farmhouse on a farm that has not been farmed in at least 30 years, according to the family patriarch “Dodge.”
“Buried Child” is the story of a farm family that has a dark secret. The secret has eaten at the family and keeping it has dissolved their moral character.
The play, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, socuses on an American farm family dealing with the recession of the late 1970’s.
Shepard felt that the American Dream does not work, but also that it has created extraordinary havoc on families chasing it.
“We see a similar time today, with our slow recovery from a recession arguably caused by this same over-indulgence and consumption,” Smith says. “Perusing the “American Dream” of owning a house and car, etc., has caused many Americans to become overwhelmed with debt that they cannot sustain.”
Smith’s direction and vision bring this macabre classic back to life for DCCC students. It is truly something to be seen, as its theme is just as relevant today as it was when it was written.
In Act I, Dodge’s character, brought to life by Rahjul Young, spends the majority of the time being pestered and bothered by his family while sneaking drinks from a bottle hidden in the couch.
His wife Halie, played by both Madalyn DeFelice and Samantha Angeline, is introduced off stage as she henpecks Dodge while preparing to go out with Father Dewis, her reverend and lover.
Tilden, played by Joseph Acquaye and Alex Novak, staggers onto stage with an armful of corn that he claims to have picked out back in the rain, although Dodge claims to have not planted corn in more than 30 years.
We finally see Halie as she enters the room and goes hysterical at the mess Tilden has made shucking the corn all over the floor. She leaves, instructing Dodge to tell Tilden to stay inside and watch his father.
Dodge falls asleep listening to Tilden tell what he has done while he was missing the last 20 years. Tilden then covers his father in the husks of corn, steals his whiskey and goes back into the fields.
Bradley, portrayed by Terence Stroman and Andrew Haase, is the final character we meet in Act I. Bradley had an unfortunate accident with a chainsaw and now wears a prosthetic leg that he has great difficulty using.
Bradley staggers up to the sleeping Dodge and takes a set of hair clippers to his head as the lights drop on Act I, leaving us to believe he has given his father a butchered haircut.
Act II begins with Vince, played by Erick Rathman and Sean Campbell, and his girlfriend Shelly, played by Amanda Lewis and Kweinyon Kannah, on a cross country trip to visit Tilden who they believe is in New Mexico. They have stopped on the way to visit Vince’s grandparents, whom he has not seen in several years.
Tilden then returns from the fields with and armful of Carrots he has pulled behind the house. Again Dodge claims nothing has grown out back since the dustbowl.
Neither Dodge nor Tilden seem to recognize Vince, and Shelly is convinced that they have entered the wrong house.
Eventually, Dodge sends Vince out to get him another bottle, and the men of the family begin to interrogate and inform Shelly about their family and their macabre secret, a child born of Halie and Tilden that Dodge had killed and buried in the fields years before.
At the end of Act II Shelly has had her fur coat taken by Tilden, who wanders about the stage with it, holding it like a baby. Bradley questions her and even goes as far as to stick his fingers in her mouth. All of them eventually fall asleep and the lights go down.
Act III begins with Dodge presuming that Vince has run away and left Shelly. He tells her not to fear Bradley as he only has one leg. He informs her that the best way to deal with him is take his leg and throw it out in the back yard.
Shortly after, Halie and Father Dewis, played by Steven Travers and Bryan Tate, arrive at the house to find Shelly drinking a cup of bullion that she made for Dodge.
Halie begins a screaming match with Dodge and Bradley, who claims that Shelly is a prostitute. Shelly attempts to tell Halie that she is Vince’s girlfriend and they have come to visit them, yet Halie continues to believe she is a trespasser.
Frustrated, Shelly grabs Bradley’s wooden leg and brandishes it like a sword to fend off the family, finally throwing it across the room to the family’s astonishment.
Finally, Vince returns, drunk and throwing bottles at the house. He then cuts a hole in the screen door and enters the house that way.
Halie and Dodge finally recognize Vince, and Dodge decides to give him the house and land. Shelly and Vince argue over whether they will stay or not. After finally convincing Vince to keep the house, Shelly decides to leave and go back home. Vince grabs Bradley’s wooden leg and throws it out the back door.
As Bradley is crawling across the floor to get his leg, Father Dewis leaves and Halie goes up to her room. Vince seems to be the only one who realizes Dodge has died, and places a blanket over him and a flower on top.
As the lights go down Halie is telling Dodge about all the crops that she sees outside in the fields, not realizing he is dead.
“You can’t force a thing to grow,” Halie says. “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.”
Finally, we see Tilden, returned from the fields once again, this time holding the skeleton to the buried child.
“Buried Child” ran from Nov 12-22. This spring, the department will be performing a musical. In the opinion of this critic, it is surely one to watch out for.