The New Group’s production of Buried Child does justice to Sam Shepard’s great play, and that is saying a lot. Written in 1978 and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize the following year, the family drama has lost none of its power a few decades later. If anything, it feels timely, considering the discontent being expressed by low-income white Americans this election season. Shepard doesn’t paint a pretty picture of a Midwestern family falling – or fallen – apart. But it’s a compelling, disturbing portrait that will stay with you long after you see it.
A major reason the production is so gripping is Ed Harris’ superb turn as Dodge. Although he spends pretty much the entire play lying on the couch or the floor, the actor gives a towering performance. Looking grizzled and weathered, Harris’ Dodge has been beaten down by life and takes solace in the bottle of whiskey he has tucked away in the couch. His wife Halie (Amy Madigan, Harris’ wife off stage as well), also wears Dodge down, blabbing on gratingly while Dodge stares blankly at the TV and tries to tune her out. The pair were terrific together in Beth Henley’s The Jacksonian two seasons ago, and they’re at least as good as Shepard’s extremely dysfunctional duo.
In the smaller role of Father Dewis, who is carrying on an unholy and unhidden affair with Halie, veteran actor Larry Pine is also just right. Paul Sparks is appropriately damaged and not all there as Dodge and Halie’s eldest son Tilden. Rich Sommer makes second son Bradley aptly menacing despite having an artificial leg. Nat Wolff is likable as Tilden’s son Vince, whom nobody recognizes when he shows up for a visit. The young actor’s performance peaks with Vince’s famous monologue. And as the ultimate outsider, his girlfriend Shelly, Taissa Farmiga is quite good, holding her own with the veterans in the ensemble even though it’s her theater debut.
Director Scott Elliott did excellent work with the cast and captures the play’s grim tone while locating the dark humor as well. Derek McLane’s farmhouse set, with its dreary brown wallpaper and sad, ugly couch, is the perfect setting for this bedraggled bunch.
Shepard enthusiasts, Harris fans and appreciators of fine ensemble acting should try to catch this outstanding production, which has been extended through April 3.