Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Buried Child—Profile Theatre—SW Portland

Buried Secrets

This Pulitzer Prize winning black comedy by Sam Shepard is directed by Adriana Baer (Profile’s Artistic Director).  It is performing at Artist Rep.’s space at SW Alder St. and 16th Ave. through June 15th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-242-0080.

Sometimes what is in the past can come back to haunt us.  For this family, late in the 1970’s, in a farmhouse in Illinois, nothing could be truer.  And their desolate home, in the middle of nowhere, like a skeleton of its former self, with its stairway to…salvation (?), seems the perfect playhouse for such restless spirits.  It is a ghost story, I believe, but best said by its director, Baer:  You should leave and “…talk about the play…argue with friends about ‘what really happened’…think hard and question everything.”  Amen.

This family, as most Shepard families are, is a prime example of the meaning of dysfunctional.  Dodge (Tobias Andersen), is the patriarch of the clan.  He’s a grizzled, old alcoholic spending most of his days coughing his guts up on the couch and watching sports on TV in the dimly-lit living room.  His wife, Halie (Jane Fellows), spends most of her days in the lighted upstairs, away from the dusty reality that hovers below her.  Or, if not there, she is out with her spiritual leader, Father Dewis (David Bodin), who has his eyes on her welfare, spiritual and otherwise.

Their eldest son, Tilden, is currently living with them, having left (or was run out of) his home in New Mexico because of “some trouble” he had gotten himself involved with.  He is a man-child, akin to the character of Lenny in Steinbeck’s, Of Mice and Men.  He even likes to pet rabbits (fur, that is) and is a wonder at finding an abundance of fresh vegetables, carrots and corn, in a land that is barren.  The youngest son, Bradley, is a bit of a bully and a sadist.  He has an artificial leg, having lost his real one in a farming accident, and makes up for this deficiency by lording over the rest of the family.

There is a third son, Ansel, a war hero, who is never seen in the play, but his presence permeates this decaying residence, constantly reminding the residents of what could have been.  He died untimely in a Motel room some years ago, the method is never discussed but it might not be too hard to guess.  Into this motley crew appears, out of the blue, Vince (Ty Hewitt), Tilden’s boy, the Prodigal son, who nobody seems to remember.  Along for the ride is his current main squeeze, Shelly (Foss Curtis), at first, seeming to be a bimbo, but probably is the most savvy of the bunch.

Really can’t tell you anymore about the play, as there are discoveries for the audience to make around every corner.  But, I will say this, that the story is always compelling and yet there are still enigmas, like relics buried in the soil, left to be…“unearthed.”  Shepard is a grand storyteller and his characters, like the ones in Profiles excellent, Eyes For Consuela, always seem to exist on more than one plain, but that is for you to deduce, discover and digest.

Baer is a pro at finding just the right casts for her shows.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in these roles.  And she is wonderful in modulating the pacing of the speeches and dialogues in the stories, so that the pauses are just as ripe as the written word as to meanings and shadings.  Scenic design by Alan E. Schwanke and lighting by Kristeen Willis Crosser fit the confined decadence and lost dreams of these inhabitants of this space.  Loved the partly finished staircase and the light at the top of the ascent.

Andersen is always an asset to any show.  He occupies the center piece, the couch, in the show, as active life swirls around him.  He is always engaged (and engaging) and he pulls every ounce of humor and tragedy out of his lines.  He is, quite simply, a marvel to observe, and a true icon of Portland theatre!  His wife (of more than one play), Fellows, is also very effective as the not-so-saintly matriarch of the family.

Blough is terrific as the as the sensitive, simple, childlike soul in the body of a man.  Your heart goes out to him as he struggles to understand the complex society of the outside world.  Well done.  And Lyons is the antithesis of his brother, hurting himself and lashing out by hurting others.  He does a fine job of playing a wounded animal with a dark soul.

Hewitt plays the misfit member of the family, waffling between needing to be recognized and wanting to escape, not an easy position to be in.  Nicely done.  And Curtis is amazing as possibly the most complicated character in the story.  She beautifully rides that thin line between being sexy and alluring, which she is, and probably the brightest member of the group.  An enigma herself and she does it very well.  And Bodin lends ample support as the very worldly church-man.

I recommend this show but, keep in mind, it is adult in nature.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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