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Randy Hughson as Tilden, David Fox as Doge; Photo: Oliver Domenchini
Randy Hughson as Tilden, David Fox as Doge; Photo: Oliver Domenchini

Theatre Review: "Buried Child" at the NAC

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Buried Child by Sam Shepard is playing on the Main Stage at the NAC through January 24. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

You can pretty much count on Director Peter Hinton to get it right.  His production of Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-winning play BURIED CHILD is nothing short of brilliant.  A co-production of the NAC English Theatre and the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre of Montreal, BURIED CHILD is well cast, well designed and very well directed.

This provocative play, revised by the playwright in 1996 for Steppenwolf Theatre, thoroughly dismantles the American Dream.  It deals with loss of identity in a dysfunctional mid-western farm family.  Like most of Mr. Shepard's plays, it swings between black humor and cruelty, between hints of horrific buried secrets and bizarre behavior.  One of my favorite oddly comic moments is when one character threatens another with a third character's detached artificial leg.

As is usual in Mr. Hinton's productions, the design elements are very creative.  Eo Sharp's costumes are excellent, especially Tilden's distressed shirt and pants.  Her farmhouse set is constructed of horizontal lathes with spaces between that allow Robert Thomson to create patterns of light and shadow.  Mr. Thomson's subtle lighting changes combined with Ms. Sharp's squeaking door create a terrific atmosphere.

Most atmospheric of all is Troy Slocum's sound, especially the almost subliminal metallic vibrations.  As my companion said, you're unaware of it and then all of a sudden you become uncomfortable.

The people responsible for props deserve special mention for providing the multitude of break-away beer bottles, the pile of corn and the luscious carrots, not to mention the artificial leg.

This is a strong cast, able to handle the emotional peculiarities of these characters.  Christie Watson is good as Vince, the grandson nobody seems to recognize, and is especially powerful in his Act II monologue.  As his girl friend Shelly, Adrienne Gould seems to grow into her role and is stronger in Act II.  John Koensgen does a nice job as Father Dewis, a priest who's as lost as the rest of the characters.

As Bradley, Vince's Uncle, Alex Ivanovici does a fine job, especially in handling the character's artificial leg.  As Halie, Vince's grandmother, Clare Coulter gives us a character who's superficially strong, but we realize there's no "there" there.  David Fox gives Halie's husband Dodge a perfect mixture of humor, mental strength, physical weakness and the petulance of old age.

The stand-out in the cast is Randy Hughson who plays Tilden, Vince's damaged father, with remarkably intense focus and concentration.  His physical characterization is very powerful, and he's a little dirtier with each entrance.  In Mr. Hughson's hands Tilden becomes a looming and dangerous presence.

Mr. Hinton has found both the humor and the cruelty in Mr. Shepard's disintegrating myth and his attention to detail is terrific.  For example, I liked the fact that the characters ignored the broken front door the same way they ignored their broken lives.

Mr. Shepard, like Pinter, leaves us with unanswered questions while the questions he does answer leave us uncomfortable.  There are many laughs in this play, but between them you could hear a pin drop.  This is an excellent production of an American classic.

On a scale of one to five, the NAC English Theatre/Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre of Montreal production of BURIED CHILD gets five Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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