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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Shepard’

Sometimes revivals of plays can feel like museum pieces, but sometimes they still feel relevant or find a new meaning. So it is with this 38-year-old Sam Shepard piece. First time around there was the US oil crisis, deindustrialisation and stagflation. Now its all those things that have created the disenfranchised and disillusioned American working class who think Donald Trump provides the solution.

Dodge spends his whole life on the sofa, watching TV, drinking alcohol, smoking and taking a vast quantity of medication. His sprightly wife Halie befriends the church minister, well more than befriends it seems. Their sons Tilden & Bradley are a big disappointment and both more than a bit unhinged. Halie worships deceased son Ansel, an all-American boy who has taken on a near mythical status in her eyes; she and the minister are planning a statue. Then there’s the titular buried child…….

When Tilden’s son Vince arrives with his girlfriend Shelly, he doesn’t get the welcome he expects. When he goes out for drink for his granddad, he goes AWOL, leaving his girl with the mad men. When he and his grandma return the following day it all kicks off. The most dysfunctional of families.

You have to pick your way through the metaphors, symbolism and surrealism to find a story of disaffection and the demise of the American dream. The first act is too slow, but then it takes off on its grotesque, absurd ride through the rural mid-West. I found it much darker but more resonant than the last time I saw it in Matthew Warchus’ production at the NT 12 years ago, with another American film actor, M Emmett Walsh, as Dodge. Though Ed Harris and his wife Amy Madigan are the real draw (both excellent) it’s a uniformly excellent cast, including relative newcomer Jeremy Irvine as Vince and an impressive West End debut from Charlotte Hope as Shelley.

I was glad I overcame my reluctance to see it again so soon.

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The first London outing of this Sam Shepard play 33 years ago had a great intimate space (the Cottesloe) and one of those magnificent but rare ‘double-acts’ (Bob Hoskins & Anthony Sher). The 1994 revival had an even better space (the Donmar) and Mark Rylance, as Lee, showing us the sort of physical acting he would later perfect as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem. This third production has a lot to live up to!

Shepard’s play has chalk-and-cheese brothers pitted against one another. Lee is a loser, sometime criminal and rather dangerous. Austin is a successful screenwriter who’s house-sitting for their mom on holiday in Alaska. Lee turns up at mom’s unexpectedly and harasses and intimidates his brother, but gets him to write a synopsis of his idea for a movie. When Austin’s producer arrives, Lee strikes up an unlikely relationship with him, playing golf and persuading him to buy his screenplay. The tables are turned in the second half when both brothers get drunk and things get very wild indeed.

It seems less ground-breaking and for some reason less plausible in 2014, and the contrast between the brooding first half and the manic second half seemed too imbalanced this time around, but it’s a great vehicle for two actors and Alex Fearns & Eugene O’Hare certainly rise to the occasion and perform as if their lives depended on it (perhaps more so on the night I went, which was being filmed) . Fearns in particular is manic, terrifying and fearless as Lee, always on the edge.

Philip Breen’s staging on Max Jones’ realistic impressive oppressive one-room set is excellent, though the frequent scene breaks where screens come down mean the tension diffuses and they did get on my nerves a bit after a while. I love the way the soundscape of crickets in the first half and coyotes in the second mirrors the atmosphere and events. There’s good support from Steven Elliott as the producer and a late entry by Barbara Rafferty as mom, but this really is a two-hander.

We see too little Shepard revived these days and its great to see this once more, in another great intimate space with equally fine performances.

 

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