by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

It was a flawless performance by leading man Leon Russom, in the astounding Whitefire Theatre production of Buried Child.  One of American playwright Sam Shepard’s darker plays, Buried Child originally won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 launching Shepard to national fame as a playwright. Thirty-five years later, this story has not lost a single shred of its merit or its impact.

Buried Child castA post modern narrative in utter realism Buried Child depicts the fragmentation of the American nuclear family and the disillusionment with American mythology and the American dream.  Whitefire’s production takes a macabre look at a Midwestern family living in an old farm-house on a failed plot of land, in Illinois, carrying a secret that slowly, painfully comes to light in the course of a single evening when grandson Vince, now living in New York City stops in unexpectedly with girlfriend Shelly, on his way to see his father Tilden in New Mexico.

A mentally unwell, Tilden now living back in his childhood home, does not recognize his son, nor does the rest of the family, or so they claim, leaving Shelly utterly perplexed. Grandmother Halie has left earlier in the day for Church and curiously does not reappear until the next day. As the night turns, Vince also disappears, while on a liquor run for his grandfather, leaving a terrified Shelly to fend for herself, with Vince’s acerbic grandfather, the delusional Tilden and eventually the cruel and bullying Bradley, an amputee and younger brother of Tilden.

To say that opening night was a perfect show would be an understatement.  Although, not entertaining in the ways that most audiences are used to with small theater in Los Angeles, Buried Child none-the-less is deep, thoughtful and absolutely intriguing.

Bypassing any sort of heavy-handedness in the direction or the presentation, there is nothing about this story that meanders or loses sight of its direction. It is stone cold economically, morally and circumstantially run-down-to-the-ground.  And yet, as ugly as this story could potentially get, the audience is held in place by its weight and symbolism and by the powerful, all-encompassing energy of Mr. Russom himself as Dodge, the alcoholic, aging and dying patriarch, withered and ashamed of his failures and secrets.

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Every character in this play has a very essential role to fulfill.  Nothing is extraneous. Everything is bizarre. Even the comedy which Shepard deliberately wrote into this piece is deranged at its occasion.  And yet, again, puzzling as each person, conversation, story line, accusation and violent act is, it is not so morose as to be sickening.  In fact, it is the opposite.

Heavy hitters of the Broadway, Off-Broadway and Los Angeles stages, Leon Russom (Dodge), Jacque Lynn Colton (Halie) and Tonya Cornelisse (Shelly) amplify the surrealism of a deteriorated family while simultaneously making this show wholly accessible to audiences with Cornelisse absolutely driving the darkly comedic moments of the script.  They are joined by David Fraioli (Tilden), Cris D’Annunzio (Bradley), Zachary Mooren (Vince) and Grant Smith  (Father Dewis) who each top this production with bold, graphic performances.

“No one knows better than Sam Shepard that the true American West is gone forever, but there may be no writer alive more gifted at reinventing it out of pure literary air.” ~Frank Rich, The New York Times

A thoroughly, outstanding achievement by Director Bryan Rasmussen, definitively and impeccably rendered by an ideal cast.

A 35th Anniversary Production of the Pulitzer Prize Winning Drama by Sam Shepard
Now playing at The Whitefire Theatre
September 6 – October 11

Directed by Bryan Rasmussen
Produced by Scott Disharoon

Production photos by Nico Sabenorio

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