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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Paula Presents Sam Shepard’s ‘Buried Child’

New production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play runs through June 5

The Main Stage of the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. Seventh St. in Santa Paula, is presenting through June 5 a new production of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child.

Writing Buried Child, Sam Shepard drew from the deep, poisoned well of his own family experience.
Writing Buried Child, Sam Shepard drew from the deep, poisoned well of his own family experience. (Pascal Guyot photo)

The drama is directed by Taylor Kasch, and stars Carol Sigurdson, David Newcomer, Lloyd Heslip, Frank Payfer, Jen Ridgway, Max Kasch and Anthony Stetson.

Two years ago, the Ensemble Theatre Company produced Buried Child. Instead of struggling to say the same thing I said back then, in different words, I will simply quote myself:

“Like all of Shepard’s most deeply felt plays, Buried Child explores the aftermath of an exploded family. This family lives on a farm in Illinois, the state where Shepard was born and raised. The family is dominated, as in so many Shepard plays, by a drunken, foul-mouthed patriarch named Dodge. Dodge and his wife, Halie, a sanctimonious lady who is nevertheless not above going on drinking bouts with the local minister, live with their two sons, Tilden, a former All-American football player with steadily declining mental capacity, and Bradley, who has cut off one of his own legs with a chain saw.

“Unless acted on by an outside force, the four members of the family spend their days in endless recriminations and abusive banter. There is little or no work to do, since nothing has grown on the farm for years and years.

“The play begins with the return to the homestead of a grandson, Vince — whom no one in the family either recognizes or remembers — and his girlfriend, Shelly. Vince and Shelly seem like sane people visiting a madhouse — at first. Curiously, at the same time as Vince’s return, the farm spontaneously begins to sprout corn.

“The family has a secret in their past, of course, and it is a grisly one. They have spent the long years since pursuing strategies of denial and displacement, but Vince’s arrival forces the issue. One of Shepard’s more cosmic insights is that the ‘nuclear family,’ with just mom and dad and the kids, is a three-legged stool, and that one of the legs going bad means that the whole family falls over.

“’A writer’s youth is his capital,’ as Graham Greene once observed, and Shepard has clearly put his capital to work for him. His own father was just such a roaring drunken maniac as appears as the father in most of his plays. Shepard has characterized the difference between his father drunk and his father sober as the difference between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

“The last time Shepard saw his father, the man was loudly and hysterically abusing his son, who made the decision not to yell back but to walk away. Three weeks later, the father stumbled onto the highway in a stupor and was struck and killed. Going through his father’s personal effects afterward, Shepard found a stack of unsent letters, one of them, to Sam, ended, ‘You may think there’s a great calamity that happened way back then, this so-called ‘disaster’ between me and your mother. You may actually think it had something to do with you. But you’re dead wrong. Whatever took place between me and her was strictly personal. See you in my dreams.’”

Buried Child plays at 8 p.m. each Friday and Saturday of the run, and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $18 for adults, and $15 for seniors (age 55 or older) and students. For tickets, click here or call 805.525.4645.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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