Buried Child: ghosts of past unearthed

By Annie Schnarr

A&E Editor

Superb acting and a carefully crafted set made Oberlin's production of Sam Shepard's Burried Child, directed by Paul Moser, espcially effective and thought-provoking. It left the audience shaken, disturbed and somber, yet very contemplative.

When Vince returns to his rural home in Illinois with his girlfriend Shelley, he is enraged to discover a family so bizarrely demented by hatred and heartache that they don't even recognize him. Sickening events that took place long ago have remained secret, and over time, have wound themselves tightly around the emotions of his grandparents, father, and uncle.

Like an ignored infection, their secrets have festered and poisoned the innerworkings and foundations of the family. After the first two acts, which were slow, dark and emotionally difficult to watch, one audience member said, "I'm completely lost. I don't know if I'm bored, intrigued or scared but I think I'm just frustrated." Thanks to some excellent acting, these feelings, generated by the content of Shepard's play, were not drawn out to an excruciating extent.

Channing Joseph did an especially good job playing Dodge, whose wise-cracks got numerous chuckles from the audience and provided much-needed comic relief. A sick and cynical alcoholic grandfather, an irate and rambling grandmother, a sentifemtal but dense oldest son Tildon, and a violent one-legged son make an eccentric and violent group.

They are occasionally amusing to the audience, but frustrating and scary to poor Shelley, played in a dead-on performance by Blythe Phillips. Shelly is an outsider who has the interesting but very unrealistic audacity to loudly assert her confusion at the strangely inhuman way these people treat each other .

In the final act the pace quickens as Shelley assumes the role of an aggressive and uninvited social worker who brings family skeletons to light. A drunken Vince breaks bottles against a wall and steals his brother's fake leg, flaunting it around the room. Haley, the neurotic grandmother, arrives home in a fury with her lover of the week, the local priest, and then finally the gory secret is disclosed.

The set was well-designed, consisting only of a couch, staircase, and balcony. The raked stage and staircase allowed for the action to happen in three places at once, adding variety, depth and suspence to the performance. The audience was especially impressed by the rain, which could be seen and heard drizzling behind the set for the first scene, which had a chilling and depressing effect. "I can't believe I forgot myumbrella," one audience member said upon leaving, only to realize that it was not and had not been raining outside.

The confusion surrounding the meaning of this play perhaps added to the depressing effect that it had. Joseph assured us that there wasn't a particular meaning that the audience was supposed to walk away with. He said, "the playwrite wanted the audience to bring their own explanation to the play."

Shepard's representation of the gross and terrible emotional reality resulting from burried horrors in rural family life, is an intimate exposure to trauma, but it also suggests that when a bloody and vile secret is dug up and exposed, some restoration and new life may be brought back.