A Good Hard Rain

I first read Sam Shepard’s Buried Child five years ago in a graduate readings course in American drama. Last night I was finally able to experience it in performance, which, as is always the case with great drama, is a quite different thing. Actually, I’m hesitant to use the words “great drama” in regard to this particular production, which too often suffered from poor casting — Shelly gave her monologue with that earnest far-off stare usually reserved for Barbra Streisand impersonators and Tilden was too…well…cute. The latter role demands equal parts brokenness, menace, and charisma, but he managed only country bumpkin, which drained his scenes — including that famous finale — of their magic and tension.

Remember that episode of The X-Files when Mulder and Scully fought the family of hillbilly inbreeds? The episode that should have been creepy and disgusting but was mostly over-the-top camp? The CBT’s production of Buried Child had the same faults. Only twice during the two-and-a-half hour play did the room crack with energy: First during Bradley’s “rape” of Shelly, which is one of Shepard’s finest moments, and again during Bradley’s fight with Vince, which was staged in slow-motion under a strobe light. The remainder of the evening was notably unremarkable.