Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
The Magic Theatre, which was once home to playwright-in-residence Sam Shepard, is presently staging a “Legacy Revival” of what is arguably his greatest opus: BURIED CHILD.
If you can temporarily transcend your sensitive understanding, liberal guilt and human compassion for a wacked-out dysfunction family, then you can laugh until to reopen your liposuction scars watching this superbly crafted comedy.
This is a hyperbolic parody of a dysfunctional family: a total shipwreck of a family: beyond therapy, possibly beyond industrial strength psycho-therapeutic drugs and beyond shock treatments from even a Van de Graaff Generator.
It is a stygian comedy about five people who are only identified as a family because they happen to share similar DNA strands.
The patriarch, Dodge, is addicted to prescription drugs, cheap whiskey and television; he has abandoned the battlefield, or cornfield, of life and now reclines on a moldering living room couch.
The matriarch, Halie, still has a functioning endocrine system—although winding down from the warp drive of earlier years—and she is making the most of it with the pastor of her church: Father Dewis.
Tilden has retreated from the jarring realities of the outer world in lives deeply submerged beneath the sutures of his sagittal crest; rarely is he cognizant of such external stimuli as people; he is bereft of both audio processing and cognitions.
Brother Bradley, who shortened his leg with a Homelite, is weak but vicious; however, take away his prosthetic and he is a lamb chop: as weak as Samson after a coif.
Grandson Vince is the canopic jar: the living vessel of the toasted family’s ashes; genetically predisposed to settle-in to the family paradigm of booze, television and the couch; self-determination is merely an abstraction to Vince.
The nearest brush anyone in the personae dramatis has with sanity is Shelly: Vince’s girlfriend; and even she finds herself temporarily drawn into the family flame although she has the sense to pull the chocks when the action cranks up.
Rod Gnapp, is no stranger the Magic Theatre (Remember Cintra Wilson’s TRIPLE X LOVE ACT? That was Rod playing Artie Jay Mitchell).
Rod Gnapp plays Dodge as if he were Dodge.
Having seen Rod on Bay Area Stages for the last 25 years, one could easily say that this is his finest hour; this is an award winning performance.
You may have missed Led Zepplin at Knebworth or Hendrix at Monterey; but don’t miss Rod Gnapp at the Magic.
Denise Balthrop Cassidy, as Halie, is simply a riot; she gives her character a determined air: still trying to wrangle dignity and sensual enjoyment from the smoldering ruins of her life; she is both dauntless and deluded.
Elaina Garrity, as Shelly, is able to do some amazing but convincing transitions.
Arriving at the farm, she has well founded trepidations but within a few hours she is tormenting Bradley as if she were one of the family; her primal release and gleeful unleashing of her shadow self is both credible and remarkably affected.
Just as deftly, she puts the Genie back in the bottle and makes a timely exit to the world of light and the living.
James Wagner, as Tilden, is fried—maybe deep fried or stir fried—hard to tell.
Picture a direct high altitude lightning strike to your iPad; what 70,000 volts can do to your semi-conductor collection, is what life at the farm has done to Tilden’s neurons and James plays it to its zombie best.
The whole show is simply the best of the best—from the Klieg lights down to the set design.
For a delightful, safe excursion into the netherworld of rural, corn-fed and carrot-fueled insanity, you want to see BURIED CHILD.
For tickets call the box office at 415 441-8822 or visit the Magic Theatre website.