Imagine an Italian espresso steeped in a dark mood. Even just the smell wraps you up in it. Now, imagine someone placing a dollop of frothy white milk on top – and not the creamy stuff that makes a good macchiato, but that foam you get at the local diner instead. Each sip you take, you taste a mix of potent flavour and flimsy fluff. This is the disturbing effect of the English Theatre Berlin and 7 Stage Theater’s production of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child.
Set in a farmhouse in the Midwestern United States, Buried Child centres around a dysfunctional family with a dark secret. More than just a family drama, the play paints symbolism and surrealism onto the typical American reality.
A young man decides to visit his family for the first time in six years. Accompanied by his giddy girlfriend, he stumbles into a world where no-one remembers him, and everyone is caught up in some kind of trauma and alcohol-infused haze. Over a 24-hour period these characters stagger through exchanges heaped with loss, irony and darkness until the truth that keeps them imprisoned breaks out from the heavy soil.
Sam Shepard’s work is heralded for its ability to embody this character in a single moment: a word, a touch, a pause. Think of the bleakness of the film classic Paris, Texas or the heat in Fool for Love. Indeed many of you may actually be familiar with Shepard’s work without realizing it: an esteemed screenwriter, director and actor, as well as playwright, he has opened up the world of lone highways and hidden tales of incest to many of us.
So for someone acquainted with the “grass roots gothic” that is Shepard, director Veronika Nowag-Jones’ production of Buried Child comes across as an incongruous two dimensional sketch, passing over these “deep particulars” with one sweeping stroke. However, while the production has consistently scattered timing, and questionable casting in Halie (Faye Allen), who houses none of the stoic torment the character is renowned for, it is buoyed by the enthralling performance of Del Hamilton in the character of Dodge. Hamilton’s portrayal incorporates the sardonic humour and disillusionment that Buried Child seeks to confront. His presence on stage retains some of the stillness essential to the depiction of Shepard’s macabre take on the American Dream. Add a safe set and costume design by Tomas Fitzpatrick and we are introduced into this archetypal picture with a reliable naturalism.
Shepard’s powerful message is slapped on a papier-mâché dollhouse of fluff. If you are looking for confrontation and a good ironic laugh and you are happy to put appearances aside, then this production of Buried Child could be just what you are looking for.
BURIED CHILD | Through May 2. For show times, visit www.etberlin.de