Volume 75, Number 37 | February 1 - 7, 2006

Theater

BURIED CHILD
By Sam Shepard
Directed by Cyndy A. Marion
A White Horse production through February 12
American Theatre of Actors
314 West 54th Street
(212) 868-4444

Rod Sweitzer as Tilden and Ginger Kroll as Shelly in the White Horse production of Shepard’s “Buried Child.”

Paying homage to Sam Shepard, one play at a time

By Jerry Tallmer

In a previous century, the appellation Jukes and Kallikaks was shorthand for interbred rural peoples of minimal sexual discipline and less mentality. The Jukes-and-Kallikaks genetic line would seem to have been passed along to a more recent family, first spotted in 1979 and now once again under scrutiny on a New York stage.

It’s a brood where neither father, uncle, grandfather, unseen hell-raising grandmother upstairs, or anybody else acknowledges the kinship or even indeed the existence of son/nephew/grandson Vince, who has been away for six years and now, on his way by car to see his father in New Mexico, has stopped by just to say hello.

Where from time to time Vince’s sub-articulate father, Tilden, who should be in New Mexico but isn’t, stomps into the clan’s remote Norman Rockwell dwelling with armful after armful of ears of corn and clumps of carrots that may or may not have been growing in the backyard.

Where also from time to time there are intimations of another, darker, closely guarded secret in that backyard.

And where Vince’s girlfriend Shelly, who has come along with him just for the ride, is now forcefully declaring to one and all of these zombies:

“I am here! I am standing right here in front of you. I am breathing. I am speaking. I am alive! I exist. DO YOU SEE ME?”

Cyndy A, Marion gave a low laugh. She’s the director of the White Horse company’s production of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” that’s at Off-Off-Broadway’s American Theatre of Actors through February 12.

“I’ve been trying for four years to get to speak with Sam Shepard,” she said. “No success. Last week Ginger Kroll, the actress who’s playing Shelly, bumped into him at the corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue, two blocks from where we were rehearsing.

“He said he’d like to come see the show after he got back from Sundance. It took him a minute to remember the play [which had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979]. He told Ginger: ‘To be honest, I haven’t seen it in some time. I’d be interested in seeing it again.”

“He didn’t know of the existence of our company, even though we’ve done five of his plays in four years: ‘True West,’ ‘The Late Henry Moss,’ ‘States of Shock,’ ‘A Lie of the Mind,’ and now this one. Last year,” said Cyndy Marion, “I also did his ‘La Tourista’ at the Michael Chekhov Theatre, and I’d directed his ‘Fool for Love’ in 2002 as my graduate thesis from Brooklyn College.”

Ms. Marion first saw “Buried Child” as an undergraduate at Davidson College in North Carolina. She could hear Hallie, that noisy, high-living grandmother upstairs, but couldn’t believe she didn’t see her until Hallie finally comes down those stairs very, very deep into the play. “I’d never seen a play where one character was kept offstage so long. It drove me nuts, expecting her to appear. The problem, now, as a director, is not to rush it — to store up the power of those silences. A Catch-22: to let it take the time it needs.”

In 1996 she saw “Buried Child” again, in the Steppenwolf production on Broadway directed by Gary Sinise, and last year she saw it once more, at the little 65-seat Michael Chekhov down on Ridge Street.

“It was so intimate, and the Broadway production was so non-intimate. The play actually spoke to me more in that very limited black-box environment. No staircase. No anything. It made me want to do it.” She sort of smiled without smiling. “We have a staircase.”

That corn that Tilden keeps bringing in — is it real or is it hallucinatory?

“It’s real. We just don’t know where he got it. From their backyard, or did he steal it? But yeah, it’s real. So are the carrots.”

And the unborn child? Or buried child?

“Well, in my head,” director Marion said, “there is an unborn child” — and she named its parents, though that information will not be printed here.

What can be printed is, to this playgoer’s mind, a certain similarity in subject matter, or obsession — that real or illusory lost child — between Sam Shepard’s 1979 “Buried Child” and Edward Albee’s 1962 “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

“Hmmmm,” said Cyndy Marion. “Hmmmm. I’ve never heard that. I don’t know. ‘Buried Child’ has been compared to Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts.’ But ‘Virginia Woolf’? Hmmmm. That would be an interesting study.

“You know, there are two versions of ‘Buried Child,’ the one he wrote in 1978 and the one he rewrote for Broadway in 1996, emphasizing certain things. That’s the one you’ve now got to use whether you like it or not.”

Manhattan-born Marion, whose father has retired from running an artificial-flower factory and whose mother has retired from Scholastic magazine, has an MFA in Directing from Brooklyn College to top her BA in Renaissance History from Davidson.

“For me,” she says, “Sam Shepard has always been a comfortable fit. I identify with his work. I see my family — ”

Not, one hopes, in the characters of “Buried Child.”

“But I do! I definitely do! Maybe that’s why it has taken me so long to touch it.”

Maybe, even, to unbury it.

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