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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BURIED CHILD
at Pershing Square Signature Center

DOMESTIC STRIFE
By MATT WINDMAN

  (L to R) Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Rich Sommer, Amy Madigan and Larry Pine/ Ph: Monique Carboni

American drama is full of dysfunctional families (you might even say that it’s nothing but dysfunctional families), but some of those families are more shocking and memorable than others. Take, for instance, the Illinois clan at the center of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer-winning 1978 drama Buried Child, which consists of a sickly, alcoholic father who stares helplessly at the television; a forceful mother who is shamelessly conducting an affair with the local priest; a grown-up son with a missing leg who gives violent haircuts; and another son who is so mentally blocked that he can’t recognize his own offspring. And that doesn’t even include the cardinal sins that the family has repressed for years, which gruesomely come to light by the play’s end.

Some of its shock value has worn off, but Buried Child (which has not been seen in New York in two decades) remains a gritty, mysterious portrait of domestic life gone to hell, as demonstrated by Scott Elliott’s well-acted and engrossing Off-Broadway revival on behalf of the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center. It makes a fine addition to the recent Broadway revival of Fool for Love, another one of Shepard’s best-known plays. (Will a new production of True West be next?)

Elliott’s starry cast includes real-life married couple Ed Harris (who has appeared in other Shepard plays) and Amy Madigan (Twice in a Lifetime), Larry Pine (various films of Woody Allen and Wes Anderson), Rich Sommer (Mad Men), Paul Sparks (Boardwalk Empire), Nat Wolff (Paper Towns), and 21-year-old Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story).

The production’s intimacy, intense physicality and seamless flow keep it vivid and visceral, even when the dialogue gets slow or confounding twists pop up. The interactions between Farminga, who plays an outsider, with the various family members are fascinating. Harris is especially compelling as a father who is essentially a shadow of his former self, alternating bouts of coughing with slugs of alcohol. He is so resigned to powerlessness that, in one of the play’s most arresting images, he is buried in cornhusks. By comparison, Madigan, with a steely, self-absorbed exterior, is completely oblivious to Harris’ deteriorating physical condition.

As it happens, this season, you can essentially trace the development of American drama firsthand by checking out productions of three very different family dramas: the Roundabout’s upcoming revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Buried Child, and Stephen Karam’s acclaimed new play The Humans, which just transferred to Broadway.

 


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