At A Noise Within, Find the Awful Secret Contained in the Title

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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It’s a comfort to see old friends, A Noise Within’s resident artists, bring such clarity to Sam Shepard’s troubling Buried Child. The play taps into our American desire for homestead, and then proves how ill-advised the search for home can be. It is his most quintessentially absurdist play, yet, given his personal history, it is perhaps his most (masked) autobiographical work. It’s the second time directing the play for Julia Rodriguez Elliott, to an audience’s great benefit.  She has teased the humor out of the grotesque, while highlighting the sense of nostalgia that Shepherd’s intruders exhibit. Let me explain: the playwright plops young Vince (Zach Kenny) and his girlfriend, Shelly (Angela Gulner), into the midst of a tight-knit and quite eccentric farming family in Illinois. The aging farmer, Dodge (Geoff Elliott), can no longer move on his own. He is tended by son Tilden (Michael Manuel), who “got mixed up” in New Mexico before he had to come back home.  Bradley (Frederick Stuart) seems to be the most independent son; however, still with a penchant for cutting his father’s hair down to the skull whenever he catches him sleeping.

Vince’s visit brings change; when Dodge’s talkative farm wife, Hallie (Deborah Strang), runs off to flirt with Father Dewis (Apollo Dukakis), Tilden comes in with a bushel of corn from the backyard.  A great deal is remarked about the fact that corn has not been planted there since 1935 (It’s now the 70s). As behaviors get stranger, and Vince settles into his family’s rhythms, Shelly finds her inner housewife.  But Shepard weaves all the threads bunched together before unraveling in ways that only this eccentric family might do.

Auxiliary elements create the perfect real/fanciful combination to tell the story. The actors’ created eccentricities seem so organic, we almost feel we’ve stumbled into a time warp. Both Elliott and Strang have worked together for so long, their behavior seems as comfortable as a old pair of shoes. The vegetables (assembled by Erin Walley) are definitely real, but Sibyl Wickersheimer’s backdrop featuring harvested corn stalks are definitely not. As always, Angela Balogh Calin’s vaguely 70s duds hit the mark, and Ken Booth’s lighting helps as well.  Jeff Gardner’s music and sound design is subtle and the rain!  Masterful.

Buried Child continues along with Gem of the Ocean through November 23, 2019 at A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107. There are post-show conversations scheduled on November 1st, 8th, 22nd ,  with special “wine down Wednesday” on November 13th. Sunday Rush ticket prices are $25.00 on October 27th and November 17th  AND finally, student tickets are all $20. For more  ticket information, phone (626) 356-3114 or order online at www.anoisewithin.org.