Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Buried Child" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

It seems like every time there is a role in the Bay Area for a character who is deranged and damaged beyond redemption (but still erudite), someone rings Rod Gnapp's bell. This time, Loretta Greco at the Magic Theatre tapped Gnapp to play Dodge, the central figure in Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Buried Child." Dodge is deranged, all right, but everyone else in his family is several bolts short of a bridge as well.

Shepard wrote this play while in residence at the Magic in 1978, then re-wrote it for a 1996 Steppenwolf production. We see this later version, with a 2013 cast to do it proud.

You never want to walk into a dark alley with any character in a Sam Shepard play. You have relatives like them. Denise Balthrop Cassidy plays Dodge's wife Halle who oozes deliciously hypocritical religious prattle while carrying on with the local minister. Dodge and Halle's two surviving sons, Tilden (James Wagner) and Bradley (Patrick Kelly Jones) are each shattered wrecks, the detritus of an unspoken family secret. Bradley has lost a leg and Tilden his mind.  

Then Tilden's son Vince (Patrick Alarpone) and his girl friend Shelly (Elaina Garrity) enter and upset the applecart. Garrity comes close to stealing the show. With her initially vapid L.A.-girl persona, she is an outsider, and therefore the only person who can engage Dodge -- and finally get him to confess about what really happened all those years ago. 

The story is thick, the plot thicker, and, for a Pulitzer winner, there are some holes in the second act. But this is an actor's show and the cast brings life to Sam Shepard's desperate Illinois world. 

Special mention to costume designer Alex Jaeger. Tilden's final costume looks like he has gone down to hell and come back up. Which isn't far off.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Buried Child" Four Stars, all for the acting. The play itself is a little obtuse -- what would have shocked an audience silly in 1978 just looks like another night on reality television in 2013. But Shepard's words make all the difference. We hear the playwright, as Halle speaks at the end of the show:

"...You can't force a thing to grow. You can't interfere with it. It's all hidden. Unseen. You just gotta wait 'til it pops up out of the ground." 

"Buried Child"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
EXTENDED Through October 13

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