AISLE SAY Philadelphia


by Sam Shepard
Directed and Designed by Randall Wise & John Doyle
The Centre Theater, 208 DeKalb Street Norristown, PA

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Currently The Centre Theater is presenting an Iron Age Theatre production of Sam Shepard’s, Buried Child for one more weekend. Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his play (which many feel is part of a trilogy including “Curse of the Staving Class” and “True West”); Sam Shepard has had an amazingly diverse career in the arts. Starting out writing plays in Greenwich Village in the Sixties and garnering six Obie Awards between 1966 and 1968, Mr. Shepard has also worked as a musician, screenwriter, essayist, short story writer, teacher, director and actor. Most audiences will remember him as daredevil and test pilot, Chuck Yeager in “The Right Stuff” for which he earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, won a Gold Medal for Drama from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and been inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

Using metaphor and symbolism for dramatic effect, the play concerns a Mid-Western family whose patriarch is dying. At the opening of the play, Dodge, the alcoholic, tubercular grandfather lies prostrate on a dilapidated couch in a rustic farmhouse. It is raining outside and Hallie, his wife, is heard haranguing him from upstairs as she prepares to go “to visit her Pastor.” Finally emerging from the upstairs bedroom completely dressed in black with shockingly white hair, the passive aggressive Dodge accuses her of going to see her “boyfriend”. We are then introduced to the troubled, third son, Tilden, who comes in from the kitchen, covered in mud, his arms full of fresh corn. Hallie warns Dodge that Tilden needs to be “watched” especially because he keeps digging in the garden. Haley tells us that she is going to get her Pastor to erect a statue of Ansel, her first son, who died prematurely on his wedding night. Once Hallie leaves, the menacing, one legged, Bradley (the second son) bursts in to intimidate his brother and father. But when Grandson Vince appears with his girlfriend, Shelly and nobody recognizes him – the play takes on a surreal turn. Who is the grandson, really? Or better yet – what does he symbolize? These questions are left for the audience to answer as Mr. Shepard only provides us with clues and striking images. Tilden with arms of fresh carrots, Hallie returning in a bright yellow dress with an armful of yellow roses, the retreating rain, and the emerging sun: these are all images of rebirth and rejuvenation. Something must die in order for the rest to live on.

I cannot say that David Fiebert merely portrays the role of Dodge well, as he simply is Dodge, embodying the role with every fiber of his thin, frail being. The role is in his bones in a frightening sort of way. At first we pity the dying man, but as his secret is revealed, that pity is washed away in a sea of dread. If this actor isn’t nominated for a Barrymore – then why bother to have them? Chuck Beishl is remarkably fascinating as the mentally unstable Tilden. We feel his muddled pain in bearing a terrible secret too long. As in Folklore, representing the heroic return of the third son, he digs for the truth. Luke Moyer is at once scary and then pathetic as Bradley. When he is wearing his prosthetic leg he feels empowered, but without it he is reduced to a whimpering baby. Though seemingly too young to play a grandmother of a twenty year old grandson, Michelle Pauls has been successfully aged with make-up and white hair and gives us a strong, vituperative, mean spirited woman who has been molded by her grief. Gina Martino is very believable as Shelley the outsider and seemingly only sane person in the play. Eric Wunsch and Ray Saraceni round out this strong ensemble cast as grandson, Vince and Reverend Dewis respectively.

The set is suggestive of a Mid-Western farmhouse with wooden clapboard walls and a screened in porch. Real water falls outside the house to denote the non-stop rain as you enter the theater. On the fourth floor of the Montgomery County Cultural Arts building on the corner of DeKalb and Lafayette Streets in quiet Norristown, the Centre Theater is a 130 seat theatrical space. Complimentary beer is provided.

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