By Jim Rutter
For THE INQUIRER
In both theme and setting, Sam Shepard’s 1978 Buried Child has aged far beyond its shelf life.
In the 1970s, no-fault divorce had just begun the breakdown of the nuclear family illustrated by his play. Today, you can’t pass two people on the street without meeting a survivor of a broken home. The end of the American Dream of self-sufficiency from owning a piece of land that Shepard depicts in the barren fields of a rundown farm seems quaint compared to the painful economic recovery after the subprime bubble.
And a play about farmers, are you serious? The only farmers today’s theatergoers care about are that hipster couple that quit their graphic design jobs, remortgaged their Fishtown home and now sell overpriced cow-shares in New Jersey.
The alcoholic, adulterous, incestuous, failed farm family of Shepard’s Pulitzer-winning play hold no similar appeal.
Thankfully, the razor-sharp production at Norristown’s Iron Age Theatre turns the taut family drama of this dated piece into a perverse pleasure: that of watching mean-spirited people tear into each other (much like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).
Their solid cast includes Dave Fiebert as Dodge, the now decrepit patriarch of the clan, his emotionally-stunted son Tilden (the excellent Chuck Beishl) and Eric Wunsch as Vince, the grown grandson that expects to rejoin his family lineage but finds no one recognizes him.
Randall Wise and John Doyle's direction provokes much laughter from the dark humor of people that should care for one another acting callously toward buried secrets and familial tragedy. That their malice stems from financial ruin and personal misfortune fails to inspire empathy or even sympathy.
By contrast, the decade after Shepard wrote this play still saw nationwide concern for the plight of America’s family farms (remember Farm Aid?).
Today, Monsanto, the debate over genetically modified crops, and Amish stalls in Rittenhouse Square remind us that our food comes from somewhere. And however much we can enjoy Iron Age's production, we certainly don’t want to think it’s produced by people like these.
Buried Child. Presented through April 13 at The Centre Theater, 208 DeKalb St, Norristown. Tickets: $15 to $22. Information: 610-279-1013 or ironagetheatre.org