By WALTER AULT
For 21st Century Media
The talented actors at the Iron Age Theater Company have once again risen to the occasion, capitalizing on their experience and expertise to brilliantly and memorably present the intriguing Sam Shepard drama, “Buried Child,” which began a three-week run at the Montgomery County Cultural Center on March 21.
“Buried Child,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, is the complex and compelling story of the decaying of a dysfunctional farm family from Illinois, with each family member being disconnected from the others, struggling to deal with severe bouts of insanity and the sadness resulting from the American dream gone wrong.
As with all of Shepard’s hard hitting dramas, “Buried Child” deals with American mythology in a way that captivates audiences, creating possible real situations and settings and injecting fantastic, surreal elements into them. Of course, this is done with provocative dialogue as well as with complex, unpredictable characters who are suffering from, among other things, moral and spiritual starvation.
That being the case the actors in Shepard’s plays obviously have their work cut out for them.
Before the show’s opening director John Doyle said in an interview that putting on a Shepard play was “not for the faint of heart,” with many challenges for both actors and director alike. Nevertheless, Doyle said that rehearsals were going very well at the time and that he was confident his collective cast members would deliver a solid performance. Well, Doyle proved to be prophetic, with all of the actors giving riveting performances, especially Iron Age regulars Dave Fiebert and Luke Moyer, and Eric Wunsch.
Fiebert plays Dodge, the aging patriarch of the farm family: a lazy alcoholic who is detached from reality and suffers puzzling mood swings and memory losses. Fiebert is impressive as he sometimes portrays Dodge in a lethargic, confused state brought on by alcohol consumption, and at other times as irate and totally out of control. Dodge, besides tolerating an overly talkative, nagging wife, Hallie, must also contend with two mentally unbalanced adult sons, Tilden and Bradley. As it turns out, the three men treat each other with contempt and mistrust, with the play’s plot gradually unfolding due to the pervasive accusations and denials concerning a deep, dark family secret.
Moyer impressively plays the child-like Bradley, a cruel, moody, physically handicapped individual who pesters and provokes his father. Tilden. played by Chuck Beishl, is Bradley’s older brother, who recently returned to the farm after a 20-year absence. He has no goals, no motivation, some obvious deep-seeded resentments toward his father and appears very sad and in a daze much of the time.
As the plot evolves many more revelations about the shocking family secret become apparent when Tilden’s son Vince, comes to visit after a long absence. Vince, who is shocked when neither Dodge or Tilden recognize him, is expertly played by Eric Wunsch, who portrays an individual who goes through an amazing range of emotions in dealing with his difficult, mystifying family.
Everything is pulled together impressively in the production, thanks in part to Doyle’s fine directing, and because the entire cast is very convincing. As a result — as it should be with any of Shepard’s works — the audience members find themselves sitting on the edge of their seats, enjoying what is transpiring as it happens and anxiously contemplating what will happen next.
The set is simple, but certainly appropriate and well done, with the stage resembling a dirty, run-down, eye sore of a living room in a farm house on a totally neglected farm, with steady rain visible to the audience throughout much of the play.
One final aspect of the play worth mentioning is the fact that while the subject matter is dark and dreary and the characters are not very likeable, there are quite a few laughs, thanks to the cleverness and imagination of Shepard.
Gina Martino is Shelly, Vince’s girlfriend, in the local production. Michelle Pauls is Hallie and Ray Saraceni has the role of Reverend Dewis.
IF YOU GO
WHEN: On stage through April 14.
WHERE: Centre Theater, 208 DeKalb St., Norristown.
INFO.: For tickets, check www.ironagetheatre.org or call (484) 432-3878.
CONNECT: On Twitter: @IronAgeTheatre