Monday, February 20, 2012

Boxcar Digs Up Harsh Reality of Shepard's Haunting Buried Child

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge Jeff Garrett (foreground) and Scott Phillips are Tilden and Dodge, son and father.
  • Jeff Garrett (foreground) and Scott Phillips are Tilden and Dodge, son and father.

Jeff Garret is probably too old to play Tilden, the most fragile character in Buried Child, now at the Boxcar Playhouse under the direction of Rebecca Longworth. Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-winning script calls for an actor who looks to be in his late 40s. But Garret and Scott Phillips, who plays Tilden's father Dodge, look the same age. They both have more salt than pepper in their hair, and their faces are similarly lined.

But this bold casting choice eventually works, for two reasons. The first is that nothing is as it should be for this mangled rural Illinois family. Even the physical foundation of their home is no longer stable: it creaks so vociferously (Teddy Hulsker did the sound design) as to become a character in its own right. Once the owners of a profitable farm with three strapping sons, Dodge and Halie (Adrienne Krug) now hardly bother to enact the sham that is their marriage. At rise, Dodge is coughing away on a dingy plaid couch, his cache of pills untouched in favor of the whiskey bottle stashed nearby. Halie starts yelling at him from offstage, and the two proceed to delight in tormenting each other like this for minutes on end -- a preposterous amount of stage time for a speaking character to be unseen.

Then the tragedies accumulate. One son has died. Another, Bradley (Ryan O'Donnell) cut his leg off with a chain saw. And Tilden has lost some mental faculties after having gotten into "trouble" in New Mexico and now he needs his parents to take care of him again, as if he were a child. Worse still, the family has incapacitated itself with the strain of keeping a horrible secret -- the buried one of the title. (And that doesn't begin to get at the worst of it.)

That Tilden should look just as old as his father does is the least of this family's peculiarities.

The other reason it works to cast Garret as Tilden is the sheer power of his performance. When he staggers in from the rain, his head pointed insistently toward the floor so he doesn't have to make eye contact with those who terrify him, he's truly a being from another world. But so vividly does he conjure what Tilden sees, so forcefully does he inhabit Shepard's haunting poetry, that his world, with all its primal rituals, makes more sense than anything else in the play. (It doesn't hurt that he also gets the most gorgeous moments in Lucas Krech's lighting design, which seemingly beam him into other lands and times.)

click to enlarge Megan Trout (holding a prosthetic leg hostage) gives a strong performance as Shelley.
  • Megan Trout (holding a prosthetic leg hostage) gives a strong performance as Shelley.

The rest of the ensemble is universally competent, but of particular note is Megan Trout as Shelley, the girlfriend of Vince (Geoffrey Nolan), who has come back to visit his family after six years, only to have no one recognize him. Shelley is the play's ambassador from the real world, and Trout has mastered the difficult combination of character traits to which Shepard often subjects his female characters: sexy and testy, but also vulnerable and compassionate.

Boxcar is staging Buried Child as part of "an intense repertory project," by which the company is staging four Shepard plays in three months. Buried Child is the second. While Longworth's production of it might not be revelatory, it's lucid and compelling enough to make us excited for what's next: Fool for Love and A Lie of the Mind.

Buried Child continues through Apr. 7 at the Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma St. (at Sixth St.), S.F. Admission is $25; 967-2227 or .

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , ,

About The Author

Lily Janiak


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.