Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” Is Exhumed Off-Broadway

Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” Is Exhumed Off-Broadway

Sam Shepard says that he’s refined the script a bit since “Buried Child” won a Pulitzer for Drama in 1979 and Tony noms with a 1996 revival. But never fear: The classic death-of-the-American-Dream play retains its chilling impact and does so, extended thanks to rave reviews for the Off-Broadway revival, through April 3.

(left to right) Taissa Farming, Ed Harris, Rich Sommer, Amy Madigan and Larry Pine. (Monique Carboni)

American playwrights love secrets, especially ones that rumble subliminally for decades, haunting and ultimately destroying a family. Indeed both Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and Eugene O’Neill’s "Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the latter an admitted influence on playwright Shepard, derive their corrosive power from the horrors kept private. Yet with “Buried Child,” the title itself signals the origin of his characters’ distress and darkness. Until the play’s final moments, when the “child” becomes visible, five members of a dismal family and two hapless visitors move through real and surreal events that unfold with easy humor and uneasy violence.

The central antagonists—husband Dodge and wife Halie (naturalistically portrayed by real-life spouses Ed Harris and Amy Madigan)—co-exist in their shabby farmhouse. Both try to escape numbing failures, he with alcohol, she by carrying on with a minister. Their sons (one has lost a leg, the other his mind) perform irrational domestic duties—a forcible haircut, blanketing a sleeper with corn husks. When grandson Vince (rising star Nat Wolff) appears, he must remind his kin who he is. That strange notion and Vince’s willing assumption of family control make it seem as if he’s wandered in from the theater of the absurd.

So wander a few steps off Broadway yourself to The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St., www.thenewgroup.org.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And with that famous opening line, Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” is off and running. Check out the slide show below for snapshots of Sam Shepard’s unhappy, dysfunctional Midwestern family in The New Group’s revival of “Buried Child.”