The State Theatre Company never fails to make an impression, and they’ve struck a chord once again with Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child.
Digging deep into the disintegration of the American Dream, the play focuses on a supposedly wholesome and hardworking Midwestern family and how their values become corrupted by the very secrets and turmoil they keep from themselves and the world.
Dodge is the begrudging old farmer who couldn’t care about the world, including his wife Halie who lives in the glorious past she envisaged as her future. In their golden years, they’re forced to look after the two sons they expected to look after them; Bradley now physically scarred, and Tilden emotionally damaged. As others come into their lives, everything they never said starts to unravel the truth and their existence.
The key to this play is how the cast make the dialogue seem almost poetic at times. As simplistic as the content of the conversation is, it’s never droll and always captivating as it slowly releases more information about the complex lives of these seemingly simple people. There is a disjoint in the family that whilst appearing to be a significant rift still seems to be the common ground keeping them together.
Director David Mealor has assembled a well-fitted cast. Ron Haddrick leads from the front as Dodge, and his presence in every scene is a worthy one. His ability to play the grumpy old codger one moment and the endearingly manipulative patriarch to perfection highlights immense talent.
The rest of the cast warm into their roles. Jacqy Phillips brings a real ‘oomph’ to Hailie, her banter with Haddrick and flirtation with the bumbling Father Dewis (Patrick Frost) humorous. Nick Garsden is the pivotal Tilden and plays simple frustratingly well, whilst Patrick Graham’s portrayal of Bradley does well to swing from imposing to subordinate.
Hannah Norris’ performance is key as the young outsider Shelley, as it’s her arrival that changes the way we see everything, and she manages to ‘slow-burn’ her way through to the end of the play to perfection. Her boyfriend – and Dodge’s nephew – Vince is well controlled by Tim Overton.
One of America’s most influential playwrights, Shepard’s script reads like a narrative to the disappointment and frustration of the average American trying to live that elusive dream promised to all. Away from the big city, this play offers a glimpse into the real psyche of the Midwest that is rarely glamourised, and you can see why. Having said this, it’s probably not that far a stretch to see this through the eyes of an Australian farmer.
There do seem to be a lot of loose ends that need tying, but the cast, the stark set and the director are all assets to this production. It’s the perfect clash between two generations that existed almost a lifetime ago, but everything about this is still relevant and as concerning today. It may not exactly be black comedy, but it’s darkly comic – a balance you’ll rarely see done as well as here.
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