Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of Dance Nation
Dodge (Damien J. Wallace was withering) is a decrepit old man living in the middle of a decrepit old farmhouse. On the couch downstairs, Dodge smokes, drinks, watches TV, and argues with his wife Halie (Cathy Simpson) upstairs. There is a dire edge to his chronic cough and the vitriol raining down from above. Something is undeniably odd about the relationships with his adult sons, too, but things don't get really bizarre until his grandson Vince (Mark Christie) makes a surprise return with a girlfriend in tow. Even though it's only been six years since he left, no one recognizes Vince, and even his bemused girlfriend can tell there is a secret tearing this family apart.
Trying to get comfortable under the tattered and slightly too small blanket, coughing and taking furtive gulps of whisky, Wallace exuded discomfort and desperation. By turns pitiful victim and bitter aggressor, Wallace's powerhouse performance drove the production. As adult sons Tilden and Bradley, Walter DeShields and Carlo Campbell also gave stand-out performances: DeShields broken and lost; Campbell menacing and wild. Eissler's decision to cast black men in the roles of Dodge, Tilden, and Bradley (Shepard plays are often lily white) added an extra layer of intensity to the production. We can only imagine the incidents of systemic racism these men have suffered and how that suffering impacts their relationships with one another. Girlfriend Shelly was played with convincing bravado by Merci Lyons-Cox.
The crumbling farmhouse looms large in the story of Buried Child, and scenic designer Colin McIlvane's excellent set was appropriately unsettling. Decaying and damaged and uncomfortably familiar, the house was unmistakably like the family occupying it. Molly Jo's costume designs were clever and well executed, especially Vince and Shelly's big city duds.
I was lucky enough to catch one of the last performances of Buried Child, but there are still two shows left in EgoPo's 2019-2020 "Shepard Country" season: Fool For Love and Curse of the Starving Class open in February and March, 2020. If this potent production of Buried Child is any indication, it will be a country worth visiting.
EgoPo's Classic Theater's Buried Child ran from October 25 - November 10, 2019, at the The Latvian Society Theater, 531 North 7th Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information on the rest of the season, visit www.egopo.org or call 267-273-1414.