By Brianna Chu
Deceptively innocuous, “Buried Child” begins with a comical bit of back and forth between spouses Dodge (Geoff Elliott) and Halie (Deborah Strang), the latter of which is physically not present onstage and is instead introduced through her persistent calls down to her sofa-ridden husband. Far from bucolic, Shepard’s rural drama unfolds slowly, creeping confusion and unease, before unraveling all at once into a disquieting portrait of a deeply unstable and guilt-ridden family. By the end of the play, many previously odd or at least seemingly harmless statements gain new, eerie meaning…by which time the dysfunctional family cycle has already begun anew.
One can expect excellence from A Noise Within’s set, tech, and crew, and “Buried Child” proved no exception to that quality. The split outside-inside set, replete with a wraparound porch, dirt, onstage corn shucking, and even rain dripping strategically at certain corners thrust the audience into the lives of the conspicuously surname-less family. The set struck the balance of charming quintessential farmhouse exterior underset by the not-so-perfect interior details: peeling wallpaper, battered baseboards, and all. The technical cues were perfect, down to the sounds of Vince’s (Zach Kenney) truck pulling in and out, perfectly matched by lighting to mimic the headlights. As usual, their technical crew and set designer deserve a huge round of applause in their own right.
Elliott brought ailing patriarch Dodge to life…and (spoiler!) death… with coughing fits that bordered on realism and sometimes fell into comedy. Frederick Stuart was truly terrifying as the unhinged, one-legged younger brother Bradley, while still waters ran deep in Michael Manuel’s Tilden. A common fault I seem to have with A Noise Within productions lies with the blocking, which, especially in Halie’s case, sometimes felt purposeless and overly posturing, especially in the first act. Shelly (Angela Gulner) brought palpable relief to the audience, reaffirming for us all that there was indeed something horribly wrong and off about this family. However challenging the material, the cast overall expertly balanced humor and horror throughout.
The continued relevance of this play, written specifically in response to America’s political climate in the 1970s, eerily reflects its own fractured cycle; but does it depict hope or ruin? Whatever the interpretation may be, “Buried Child” weaves an unsettling, thought-provoking story that is more felt than understood, running at A Noise Within until November 23.
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107