In today’s Wall Street Journal I review a New Jersey revival of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child and the Broadway premiere of Richard Bean’s The Nap. Here’s an excerpt.
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Home, Robert Frost said, is the place where, “when you go there, they have to take you in.” But what if they don’t remember who you are? That’s what happens, more or less, in “Buried Child,” the 1978 black comedy that won Sam Shepard a Pulitzer Prize and put him on the map of American theater. Shepard’s reputation has been in a semi-eclipse of late, no doubt owing in part to the long wasting illness (he suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease) that killed him last year. So it is a pleasure to see Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s splendid revival of “Buried Child” and thereby be reminded that at his best, he really was as good as everybody remembers….
At a moment when so many younger playwrights seem determined to beat their audiences over the head with whatever they want them to think, it is a further pleasure to spend an evening watching a play that is at one and the same time effective and elusive, so much so that it’s genuinely hard to describe. Imagine “You Can’t Take It With You” rewritten by Edward Albee or Samuel Beckett, though, and you’ll start to get a sense of what happens, or appears to happen, in “Buried Child,” in the course of which Vince (Paul Cooper) and Shelly, his girlfriend (Andrea Morales), pay a visit his grandparents’ Illinois farm for the first time in six years. No sooner do they knock on the front door than they discover to their surprise and horror what we’ve already learned, which is that the poisonously crotchety members of Vince’s extended family all seem to have gone mad, albeit comically so—at first….
“Buried Child” doesn’t exactly act itself, but it works best when done plainly and straightforwardly, and Paul Mullins’ staging, in which every member of the cast seems as real as a character in a nightmare, is devoid of any trace of trickery….
Why on earth did anyone think it a good idea to mount a Broadway production of a British farce about a transgender gangster named Waxy Bush who attempts to fix the Snooker World Tournament—especially one in which all of the characters speak in a largely unintelligible working-class dialect? Having squirmed without cease through the U.S. premiere of Richard Bean’s “The Nap,” I’m forced to the conclusion that a not-inconsiderable number of New York theatergoers get a thrill out of hearing the words “f—“ and “c—“ pronounced with a Yorkshire accent. I can’t think of another reason to do “The Nap,” especially given the fact that the latest play by the author of “One Man, Two Guvnors” is relentlessly, incapacitatingly unfunny…
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To read my complete review of Buried Child, go here.
To read my complete review of The Nap, go here.
The trailer for Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s revival of Buried Child:
A scene from Writers Theatre’s 2018 Chicago-area revival of Buried Child, directed by Kimberly Senior: