Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
April 6, 2012
As unavoidable as Taxes: death, love and dysfunctional families.
When it comes to disastrous, damaging relatives, it’s hard to top Sam Shepard, especially in the play that won him the 1979 Pulitzer Prize. Gruesome and violent, absurd and morbidly funny, “Buried Child” tackles Shepard’s favorite themes: the dissolution of the American Dream; the morass of spirituality and morality; the disintegration of the family; the inescapability of the past.
Denial runs so deep in this clan that when Vince returns home after a six-year absence, no one recognizes or remembers him – not his father, uncle or grandparents. They’re all neck-deep in guilt and mutual recrimination. The skeleton in their closet is actually buried out back, part of a web of dark secrets for which everyone is culpable. Life sort of stopped when the damage was done. The ravaged residents, like the house and yard, are in suspended animation, arrested development. It takes Vince’s spunky girlfriend, Shelley, to wheedle the story out of them – and it terrifies her.
You have to appreciate Shepard’s spiky, starkly poetic language, his use of myth and parable, symbolism and archetype. There’s plenty to ponder here, and plenty to recoil from in horror.
Lisa Berger knows her way around grisly theater works, and she deftly directs an uneven cast at New Village Arts. At the center are chilling performances by Jack Missett as the scary, skeletal patriarch, Adam Brick as rapidly degenerating Vince and Kelly Iversen as increasingly horrified Shelley.
“Buried Child” is an American classic, but it’s only for those with a taste for the enigmatic and macabre.
On the lighter side are a pair of romantic comedies.
In James Sherman’s “Beau Jest,” Sarah loves Chris, but her relationship might just kill her parents, because he isn’t Jewish. So she invents a nice Jewish doctor they’ll adore, and hires an actor to portray him. Turns out, Bob Schroeder isn’t Jewish either, but charisma, improv classes and a stint in “Fiddler on the Roof” get him through a family dinner and Passover seder .
Randall Dodge is hilarious as Bob, flawless in his physical comedy and comic timing. Under the assured direction of Christopher Williams, the banter stays frothy, kvetchy and endlessly amusing.
Would that there were as many laughs in “Almost, Maine,” which is … almost funny. The first play by actor John Cariani , who was sidesplitting last summer at the Old Globe, presents a fictional, far-north enclave where magic happens, a kiss can change a life, and there’s a whiff of loneliness and disappointment in the ice-cold air. Robert May shepherds a game cast of four, playing 19 roles, trying to vary and entertain. But in the end, it all feels like shallow TV sketch comedy.
Drama can appall and romcoms may not amuse. You be the judge.
The Moonlight Stage production of “Beau Jest” runs through April 8, at the Avo Theatre in Vista.
“Almost Maine” plays through April 22 at Scripps Ranch Theatre.
“Buried Child” continues through April 22 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
©2012 PAT LAUNER