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See This: Shattered Globe's Buried Child

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on May 28, 2009 6:30PM

David Dastmalchian as Vince, photo via
A Sam Shepard play done poorly is angsty and strange.
A Sam Shepard play done well is riveting and explosive.
Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Buried Child is the latter.

Think your family is crazy? Try this on:

  • Dodge (Maury Cooper): Elderly, dying, alcoholic family patriarch. Refuses to take off his hat when he sleeps, fearing his grown-up son, Bradley, will shave his head. Which he does.
  • Halie (Linda Reiter): Dodge’s shrill, holier-than-thou but unfaithful wife. Hero-worships the couple’s son Ansel, who died mysteriously in a motel room. Her feelings about her other two sons: when Ansel died, “it was the same as if they all died.”
  • Bradley (Greg Kopp): Lost one leg in an accident. Serious Napoleon complex. Turns into a Mama’s boy when threatened, especially by someone wielding his own prosthetic leg.
  • Tilden (Gerrit O’Neill): Lived in New Mexico for 20 years, until something terrible happened. Recently moved back in with his parents in Illinois. Glazed eyes and disconnected expression bring the word “lobotomy” to mind, but he is clearly carrying a secret.

While Halie is out at “lunch” with her church pastor (Ted Hoerl), Vince (David Dastmalchian), who is Tilden’s son, and his girlfriend Shelly (Helen Sadler) stop in for a visit on their way from New York to visit Tilden, whom they believe still lives in New Mexico. It has been six years since Vince saw his family, and none of them recognize him. They feel threatened by his presence. Though it ebbs and flows, all hell breaks lose. It might sound funny, but the play’s few comedic moments are fleeting, serving as quick breaths from overwhelming circumstances. The results of the family’s confusion, distrust and malice is nothing short of horrific.

These characters are frustrating, clinging to their pride in attempts to disguise their sadness, desperation and inadequacies, but never annoying. Under the direction of Steve Scott, the play is a wonderful mess of balls-to-the-wall performances, especially from Cooper, Dastmalchian and O'Neill. The cast’s strong work gets a boost from the tone set by scenic designer Kevin Hagan’s familiar yet foreign home, and sound designer Kevin Viol’s subtle music and persistent (at least through intermission) rain, which made us forget it was a sunny, 83 degree Chicago day.

Buried Child may not be for everyone - it’s deeply troubling and grotesque. But it’s also damn good.

Buried Child, thru July 12 at The Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets $30-$35 (discounts for students, seniors and groups), 773-770-0333.