Three-act play, winner of Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1979. Sam
Shepard takes a macabre look at one American Midwestern family with a very dark
secret. When Vince brings his girlfriend, Shelly, home to meet his family, she
is at first charmed by the "normal" looking farm house which she compares to a
"Norman Rockwell cover or something"--that's before she actually meets his crazy
family--his ranting, alcoholic grandparents (Dodge and Halie) and their two
sons: Tilden, a hulking semi-idiot, and Bradley, who has lost one leg to a chain
saw. Strangely, no one seems to remember Vince at first, and they treat him as
an intruder. Eventually, however, they seem to accept him as a part of their
violently dysfunctional family.
Gradually, the family's dark secret begins to come clear.
Years ago Dodge, the grandfather, buried an unwanted newborn (possibly the
product of an incestual relationship between Tilden and his mother) in some
undisclosed location in the backyard. From that point forward, the entire family
lived under a cloud of guilt that is finally dispelled when Tilden unearths the
unfortunate child's mummified remains and carries it upstairs to his mother.
This act seems to purge the family of its curse. Corn now grows in the fields
where nothing would grow for years.
The play ends with a proclamation of hope from Halie who
says: "You can't force a thing to grow. You can't interfere with it. It's all
hidden. It's all unseen. You just gotta wait til it pops up out of the ground.
Tiny little shoot. Tiny little white shoot. All hairy and fragile. Strong
enough. Strong enough to break the earth even. It's a miracle."
First produced at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco on June
27, 1978. Directed by Robert Woodruff.
First NY production - Theater for the New City on October 19,
1978. Directed by Robert Woodruff. It later moved to the Theater de Lys in
Greenwich Village, where it played until April 15, 1979. A day later Shepard
received news of his Pulitzer Prize.
First London production - Hampstead Theatre Club on June 19,
1980. Directed by Nancy Meckler.
On April 30, 1996, the play was revived for a two-month run
on Broadway following a production at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. The production,
directed by Gary Sinise at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, was nominated for five
Tony Awards and featured James Gammon and Lois Smith.
1978 New York performance:
Richard Edger, NY Times (November 7, 1978):
Mr. Shepard is an uncommon playwright and uncommonly gifted and he does not
take denouncing for granted. He wrestles with it at the risk of being thrown...
"Buried Child", now at the Theater for the New City, takes the same theme. As a
piece of writing, it may be less interesting but it seems to work far better on
the stage. In the very gifted production directed by Robert Woodruff, it manages
to be vividly alive even as it is putting together a surreal presentation of
American intimacy withered by rootlessness.
Harold Clurman, The Nation (December 2, 1978):
What strikes the ear and eye is comic, occasionally hilarious behavior and
speech at which one laughs while remaining slightly puzzled and dismayed (if not
resentful), and perhaps indefinably saddened. Yet there is a swing to it all, a
vagrant freedom, a tattered song. Something is coming to an end, yet on the
other side of disaster there is hope. From the bottom there is nowhere to go but
Although admitting Shepard was definitely not
"commercial," the Nation's Harold Clurman, in his review of the Buried Child
premiere at the Theatre for a New City on October 19,1978, called him
"quintessentially American," and asserted, "I am convinced that he is not only a
genuinely gifted but a meaningful writer." To illustrate Shepard's importance to
the theatre and New York at the time of the production, Clurman observed, "The
production cost $2,000: the actors receive a pittance. Two...
1986 Los Angeles performance:
Lawrence Christon, LA Times (April 11, 1986):
The South Coast Repertory's program notes for Sam Shepard's "Buried Child"
quote Shepard as saying, "One of the weird things about being in America now is
that you don't have any connection with the past. . . . You've got this
emotional thing that goes a long way back, which creates a certain kind of
chaos, a kind of terror."
"This emotional thing" has been a live wire in Shepard since the beginning of
his writing career, but it wasn't until "Buried Child" that everything came
together in a balance between expression and his roiling subconscious. "Buried
Child" is a great play; the SCR production shows us how it belongs on a level
with "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "The Glass Menagerie" in its evocative
intricacy and culminating emotional impact.
1995 Chicago performance:
Richard Christiansen, Chicago Tribune
(October 2, 1995):
As he did with Shepard's "True West" for Steppenwolf in 1982, Sinise has not
so much reinvented Shepard as rediscovered him. The language, the characters,
the predominant themes are all there, but juiced up by Sinise's patented brand
of stage energy into a bizarre American folk tale that is at once hilarious and
Thunder crashes, villains cackle, a jazz saxophone wails, an endless staircase
leads to the farmhouse's second floor. It's all so eerie.
At times, Sinise's power plays threaten to bury the drama, replacing it with
scenes of overripe performance and black humor.
But in the end, the director is faithful to his author, delivering stunned
silence as well as hearty laughs and breaking the shenanigans with a shudder of
1996 Broadway performance:
Malcolm Johnson, Hartford Courant (May 12, 1996):
Gary Sinise's revival of Sam Shepard's greatest play presents American regional
theater at its strongest and most resonant... Before winning the Pulitzer
Prize for drama in 1979, Shepard's rural drama of disintegration, disfigurement,
incest and infanticide blew away audiences at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Adrian
Hall's production combined deep feeling for the land and its people with the
fatalism of Greek tragedy. Sinise, nominated for a best-director Tony, is now
proving at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre that lightning can strike twice. It is
rare to see a second production that improves on one that remains vivid in
memory. "Buried Child'' demonstrates that remarkable exception as it dissects a
once ``happy'' family, now burdened with a past no one wants to remember. It
reveals Shepard at the peak of his poetic powers, and Sinise explores every
murky, brooding corner of a play that only seems more potent than it did nearly
20 years ago.
Ben Brantley, NY Times (May 1,
"Buried Child" operates successfully on so many levels that you get dizzy
watching it. It has the intangible spookiness of nightmares about home and
dispossession, yet it involves you in its tawdry, mystery-driven plot with the
old-fashioned verve of an Erskine Caldwell novel.