Shepard’s American Gothic, “Buried Child,” at A Noise Within

By Brianna Chu

Deceptively innocuous, “Buried Child” begins with a comical bit of back and forth between spouses Dodge (Geoff Elliott) and Halie (Deborah Strang), the latter of which is physically not present onstage and is instead introduced through her persistent calls down to her sofa-ridden husband. Far from bucolic, Shepard’s rural drama unfolds slowly, creeping confusion and unease, before unraveling all at once into a disquieting portrait of a deeply unstable and guilt-ridden family. By the end of the play, many previously odd or at least seemingly harmless statements gain new, eerie meaning…by which time the dysfunctional family cycle has already begun anew.

The happy couple. – Photo courtesy of Craig Schwartz / A Noise Within

One can expect excellence from A Noise Within’s set, tech, and crew, and “Buried Child” proved no exception to that quality. The split outside-inside set, replete with a wraparound porch, dirt, onstage corn shucking, and even rain dripping strategically at certain corners thrust the audience into the lives of the conspicuously surname-less family. The set struck the balance of charming quintessential farmhouse exterior underset by the not-so-perfect interior details: peeling wallpaper, battered baseboards, and all. The technical cues were perfect, down to the sounds of Vince’s (Zach Kenney) truck pulling in and out, perfectly matched by lighting to mimic the headlights. As usual, their technical crew and set designer deserve a huge round of applause in their own right.

A bewildered Father Dewis (leftmost, Apollo Dukakis) surveys the room. Left: Bradley (Drederick Stuart); center: Halie; right: Shelly (Angela Gulner); rightmost, Dodge. – Photo courtesy of Craig Schwartz / A Noise Within

Elliott brought ailing patriarch Dodge to life…and (spoiler!) death… with coughing fits that bordered on realism and sometimes fell into comedy. Frederick Stuart was truly terrifying as the unhinged, one-legged younger brother Bradley, while still waters ran deep in Michael Manuel’s Tilden. A common fault I seem to have with A Noise Within productions lies with the blocking, which, especially in Halie’s case, sometimes felt purposeless and overly posturing, especially in the first act. Shelly (Angela Gulner) brought palpable relief to the audience, reaffirming for us all that there was indeed something horribly wrong and off about this family. However challenging the material, the cast overall expertly balanced humor and horror throughout.

Yes, that is real corn. Photo courtesy of Craig Schwartz / A Noise Within

The continued relevance of this play, written specifically in response to America’s political climate in the 1970’s, eerily reflects its own fractured cycle; but does it depict hope or ruin? Whatever the interpretation may be, “Buried Child” weaves an unsettling, thought-provoking story that is more felt than understood, running at A Noise Within until November 23.

A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107
(626) 356-3100
boxoffice@anoisewithin.org

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Brianna Chu is an opinion writer for Beacon Media who was born and raised in Pasadena. She loves to cook and to eat, is a lifelong viewer of Food Network, and enthusiastically introduced the tradition of Thanksgiving dinners to her British and European friends while earning her degree at the University of St Andrews. While they absolutely hated going around the table and saying what they were grateful for every year, they also loved the excuse to get together and feast with friends enough to endure it anyway. She also occasionally writes play reviews, which she is probably more qualified for, oddly enough. She performed in five plays and two musicals in high school. In university, she was an ensemble member in the Laramie Project, directed and acted in Seascape with Sharks and Dancer, and produced and acted in Box Clever. She also produced Les Bonnes, a French play, and was producer, costumer, make-up artist, and sound board technician for Gagarin Way.

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