Sam Shepard's 1979 Pulitzer-winning play, Buried Child, is a choking, claustrophobic drama about menace, secrets, incest, insanity, and estrangement. Staged with five antagonists in an Illinois farmhouse, Buried Child is a lyrical powder keg of suppressed shame and sin. It's a pity, then, that Third Eye Theatre is in far over its head, even as it shoots for a straightforward adaptation of Shepard's classic.
One gets the impression that the family farmhouse in Buried Child hasn't felt a breath of fresh air in decades: The crusty, alcoholic patriarch, Dodge (played wonderfully by Jon Lee), drinks and wheezes and moans on the sofa all day, pausing only to shout with his wife Halie (Maggie McOmie), who shuts herself off upstairs. Their disappointment of a son, Tilden (Pierre Brulatour), who "lost his marbles" in New Mexico, lives with them, and along with his amputee brother Bradley (Royal Hebert), the four circumnavigate each other in a closed circuit of hostility and denial. When Tilden's estranged son Vince (Ira Kortum) and his big city girlfriend (Alacias Enger) show up on the doorstep one afternoon, the delicate fabric of malicious secrecy that binds the family begins to unravel like a Midwestern Greek tragedy.
Unfortunately, Third Eye is simply not up for the challenge of making this tragedy either believable or effective. One would think, for instance, that when a hulking, brutish character is making threatening sexual advances on a woman, he might do more than stand flatfooted with his arms hanging inertly at his sides. When Kortum delivers Vince's hallucinatory, revelatory monologue near play's end, I didn't once get the sense that he understood what his character was trying to express.
The production values weren't any better: The lighting didn't change until nearly an hour in, and when it did, it was to jarringly cheesy effect. Worse, though, were the laughably bad props, which make their appearances exactly when you're not supposed to be giggling.
Occasionally, one would catch glimpses of the brilliance of Shepard's original text here, but when this happened, it only made Third Eye's adaptation all that more frustrating. Usually, any chance to see Shepard is a good chance, but in this instance, you'd be better off at home with a dog-eared copy of Seven Plays.