Review: Buried Child, Curve (Leicester)
Remnants of a tatty cornfield which has clearly seen better days fill the height of Curve’s studio to set the scene for Paul Kerryson’s revival of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
It’s macabre drama interlaced with moments of uncomfortably dark humour, as it explores a midwestern American family with a terrible secret.
The 1978 play offers the antidote to the American Dream with its three generations of dysfunctional, damaged family, resulting in something not unlike a hybrid of Tennessee Williams meets The Beverly Hillbillies. This is not a happy nor a healthy house.
The short but important 45-minute first act provides hints and clues for those who want to try to guess the secret while laying a lot of groundwork for acts two and three, played straight through. There’s decaying patriarch Dodge, once a successful farmer and respected local man, festering on his sofa as he dies amid cheap alcohol and cigarettes. Matthew Kelly combines his embittered anger, guilt and despair with a begrudging acceptance that his lot in life is deserved, while his wife Halie (Jane Lowe) responds to her family’s saga by hiding in memories, lies and fantasy.
Of their two sons, Tilden is mentally damaged, Bradley physically. Matthew Rixon’s Tilden is clearly traumatised, his physical stature is imposing and staring silences unnerving, while Michael Beckley’s crazed, one-legged Bradley is deeply unsettling.
Far from the family reunion he anticipated, eventually secrets which can’t be laid to rest are drawn out into the open and the full horror of their actions is revealed. Without giving too much away, you may wonder whether Vince could be the returning ghost of the grown-up “buried child”, but that’s an exploratory question for Shepard.
Paul Wills’ set impresses, the cornfield rising to reveal the home which has become as unloved and worn as the family, and if there’s a teeny nitpick, it’s that the intensity of the playwriting and the acting doesn’t need moments of musical underscoring for punctuation.
It’s a slow-burner which builds to an unexpected and strangely hopeful finale. Just one word of advice; keep the family secret to yourself .
* To read the INTERVIEW with Matthew Kelly and his son Matthew Rixon on working together on Buried Child CLICK HERE.
BURIED CHILD is at Curve, Leicester, until December 3. Details on 0116 242 3595.