Buried Child

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Photo: Monique Carboni

Cititour.com Review
The theater world had already seen plenty of dysfunctional families by the time Sam Shepard first presented his soon-to-be-Pulitzer Prize-winning black comedy “Buried Child” in 1978. Yet, there was something both unusually profound and inexorably sad in this depiction of a Midwest clan whose aspirations for success, never mind, normalcy have completely evaporated, and those qualities still remain staunchly at the forefront of Scott Elliott’s mostly stunning revival for The New Group, now on view at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

The lion’s share of the credit – exempting Shepard and Elliott – belongs to the great actor Ed Harris, who eschews any iota of vanity in his portrayal of the family’s dying, disgusted patriarch Dodge. Imbuing every line and every moment with 100 percent truthfulness as he sits in Derek McLane’s well-worn living-room, Harris practically permeates the scent of a man who can no longer tolerate his family – his seemingly pious but hypocritical wife Halie (played beautifully by Harris’ real-life spouse, Amy Madigan), his now “lost” eldest son Tilden (a haunting Paul Sparks), or his alternately bullying and bullied son Bradley (“Mad Men” star Rich Sommer, remarkably effective). Nor, by play’s end, can he keep quiet about the devastating family secret (and his role in it) that has destroyed everyone and everything around him.

What prompts his revelation is the unexpected visit by Tilden’s long-estranged son Vince (a less-than-ideal Nat Wolff), who thinks his father is still in New Mexico and is looking to suddenly recapture his childhood, and his newish girlfriend Shelley (Taissa Farmiga). A seemingly upper-class, sheltered Angeleno, Shelley is meant not just to be the counterpoint to Dodge and his family, but almost a symbol of what Shepard saw as the last ounce of hope in American culture, as naïve as it might be. Unfortunately, Farmiga, a film and television actress making her theatrical debut, simply doesn’t have the stage chops to give the needed depth to Shelley, in some ways, the play’s most pivotal role. Her performance is a tad too shrill.

Rounding in the company, in a bit of luxury casting, is the wonderful veteran actor Larry Pine as Father Dewis’, Haile’s confidant (and possible lover), who is pitch-perfect as a man of religion who, when push comes to shove, cannot offer even an ounce of hope, salvation, or even useful advice to this lost souls.

Shepard is also to be credited for how he handles the central mystery of the play; the clues are scattered throughout (including in the title), yet even its explanation is never made fully explicit. And the show’s final image remains one of the masterstrokes of theater. We can only be grateful that The New Group has not just dug up “Buried Child” but resurrected it so beautifully.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Larry Pine, Rich Sommer, Paul Sparks, Nat Wolff

Open/Close Dates
Opening 2/17/2016
Closing 4/3/2016

Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 2/2/2016
Closing Open-ended

Box Office

Theatre Info
Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036