"The production’s climactic scene lacks the necessary tension and sense of tragedy to make it a slam-dunk. However, the production is worth seeing for director Cyndy A. Marion’s excellent musical selections, spot-on performances by Bill Rowley and David Elyha, and Sam Shepard’s brilliant script."
Now playing at The American Theatre of Actors is Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child,” presented by the White Horse Theater Company. Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play tells the story of an all-American family: Dodge, the family’s patriarch, is an alcoholic; his wife, Halie, goes on dates with the local priest; their two sons are handicapped (Bradley only has one leg and Tilden is mentally challenged); and there is a gruesome family secret they have all been hiding for years. When two estranged relatives arrive unexpectedly at the family’s farmhouse in rural Illinois, relationships deteriorate and the secret is revealed, shattering the family beyond repair.
David Elyha makes a hilarious cameo appearance as the flirtatious Father Dewis. Elyha is charming and charismatic and he almost steals the show with his delightful portrayal. As Dodge, Bill Rowley delivers an excellent performance. He is charismatic, lively and spontaneous, bringing both humor and tragedy to the role. Even during his quiet moments, Rowley never ceases to be a presence on stage. Karen Gibson plays Dodge’s wife, Halie, and has the difficult task of opening the play with a 20-minute conversation with Dodge from off stage. This requires tremendous vocal power, especially because opening moments are critical in getting an audience’s attention and introducing them to the world of the play. Unfortunately, Ms. Gibson falls short: rather than communicating or emoting vocally, she sounds like she is reading from a teleprompter backstage. When she finally enters, her voice remains noticeably constricted, and she seems lost in her own bubble, not really relating to anyone else on stage. Also absent from Gibson’s characterization are physical choices: her body does not seem to be fully engaged with what she is doing on stage.
White Horse Theater’s co-founder, Rod Sweitzer, takes on the role of the mentally impaired Tilden. Sweitzer is a talented actor and has clearly done his homework for the role. During quiet, reflective moments, Sweitzer is enormously engrossing. At times, however, he seems too self-conscious about the choices he has made. There is also the feeling that something overall is missing from his performance. This could be attributed to the fact that, throughout, Sweitzer keenly plays the victim; rather than infusing his character with an urgent desire to overcome his obstacles, Sweitzer, instead, allows himself to become mired in sadness and self-pity. If Sweitzer ditched these qualities in his portrayal, his performance would be quite moving.
Chris Stetson arrives late on the scene as Vince, Tilden’s long lost son. As Vince, Mr. Stetson is physically awkward, self-conscious and lacking in emotional depth. Acutely absent from his performance is a deep desire to reconnect with his family and genuine devastation about the shattered state of his family. The fact that Vince’s father and grandfather claim not to remember him hardly seems to register with Mr. Stetson. His lack of specific character choices and his tendency to play the surface as opposed to the truth of each moment makes his transformation from an estranged family member looking for answers to a spiteful lunatic, difficult to believe. As Vince’s girlfriend, Shelly, Ginger Kroll mugs and indicates her way throughout, playing the character’s attitude as opposed to rendering a full characterization.
The production’s climactic scene lacks the necessary tension and sense of tragedy to make it a slam-dunk. However, the production is worth seeing for director Cyndy A. Marion’s excellent musical selections, spot-on performances by Bill Rowley and David Elyha, and Sam Shepard’s brilliant script.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.