Buried Child by Sam Shepard Play Review
Buried Child is a play by Sam Shepard first premiered in 1978 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, California. Sam Shepard won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama because of this play. The play was performed on Broadway from April 30, 1996 through June 30, 1996 at Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
This play is fairly recent and takes cuts at American Culture, more specifically, the American Dream. Throughout the play, everyone is constantly reminiscing on how great they were and now they are all have fallen from their former glory. For instance, Tilden, the eldest son, used to be an All-American Halfback with a bright future and now he is in his forties and living with his parents with no family of his own. Audiences of today would be able to relate to this play and how people can show promise early in their life and one event can change it all for the worse. If anything the audience could relate to a family that is growing old and growing apart. There are many problems in this family that still plague families today, even as basic as infidelity. The plot structure of this play is Episodic. There is a clear linear story of events. The action of the play occurs in the first Act at lunchtime, in the spring due to the heavy rain. The second Act takes place on the same day as the first at dinnertime, and the third Act takes place the following morning. The entire play takes place inside the family’s house in Illinois. The climate within the play is against the American stereotypes of having everything your heart desires and live happily ever after. It has a dark aspect which suggests all families have secrets and no one is truly happy.
If I were to produce this play myself, there would be one simple setting, the house. Within the house is a staircase leading up out of sight, a couch and TV and a kitchen on the other side of the stairs. The needs for costumes are fairly straightforward, everyone in the play wears one costume the entire play except the mother who changes from Act 2 to Act 3. The lighting for the first 2 Acts is simply giving the illusion of rainy, dark, dreary day, and for the final Act it is a bright morning, signaling a new beginning. The sound is an important aspect of this play, the first two Acts are very sad and hopeless with the sounds of constant raining, the final Act begins with the chirping of birds singing their morning songs to brighten up the mood of the play.
If I had to choose one character I would personally play it would be Tilden. Tilden is the lost son of the family who has come back home after getting into “trouble” in New Mexico. They never say exactly what trouble he gets into, just that he goes to jail and has to return home. He states that he felt like a foreigner and he was alone during his time in New Mexico. I choose Tilden because he is very troubled by the loss of his child, and he never recovers. This character would be a challenge for anyone to portray due to his severe emotional issues. If was to act, I would choose a character who would be the biggest challenge, and Tilden is that character.
All Tilden wants in this play is to have his old life back, everything used to be perfect for him. He was a bright, attractive, football player that had his own son who he adored. He would walk around all day with it in his hands singing to it and telling it stories. There was a slight problem; the baby was born out of wedlock. Not only out of wedlock, but Tilden conceived the child with his own mother, Haile. Tilden’s father who was still married to Haile, drowned the baby and buried it’s body in the fields in the back, never to be found without Tilden’s knowlege. The family made a pact to never talk about the incident ever again. Tilden never was the same after that, he would wander around in the fields in which he used to sing to his child. He was empty, always staring off into the distance and never had much to say. He just wanted his old life back and he didn’t know what to do to get it back, so he did nothing. Tilden’s objective is to be happy. He has no purpose in life, no friends, no son, and a family that disrespects him. He has no idea how he can be happy without his son so instead, he stares into nothing.
If he is to ever become happy or normal again he will need to start by leaving his family and becoming independent. He is treated like a child by his mother, despite being over 40 years of age. His father gives him useless tasks to do such as fetch him water because he is old and can barely stand. His brother treats him like an idiot and relishes in the fact that Tilden has long faded from his golden boy past so he can get some respect from his family. His family constantly holds him back and he never has a chance to grow and become his own man. He is living in the past and he needs to let that dark past go. There is one problem; he never wants to leave his baby boy who is buried in the field behind their house. He can never leave until he finds his boy who was taken from him.
Tilden acts like a Golden Retriever. If you look into his eyes they seem lifeless and there is not much going on. He obeys the orders of his father to fetch him this and that. He is coddled by his mother and treated like he is still a puppy, never allowed outside to wander. He is abused by his brother and Tilden despises him. Yet he stays around the house just for the opportunity to run away and search for his beloved bone that someone stole and buried a long time ago. The Retriever is very loyal and will not wrong you but if you treat him wrong, you will lose him forever.
The above picture is taken in the Mojave's airplane graveyard. It shows planes that at the time when they were built, were the top of their class, the best technology had to offer. Now they just sit there neglected and waiting to die, long forgotten by the people who once loved them. This is a very good representation of Tilden. Tilden was once an All American Football player with a bright future, no telling how high he would fly. Stories were written in the newspaper of how great he was going to become. Now he is back in his mother’s house with his family all rotting away next to him.
Tilden is an athletically built man who is in his forties, with a terrible haircut from his brother, and looks like the typical farm boy. He was known as a very intelligent man growing up, the smartest of his brothers. He hasn’t been that way recently, he has been quiet, keeps to himself, and obeys orders. This is a man who conceived a child with his own mother only to have it killed by his father and hidden from him so he is troubled to say the least. In the play Shepard states, “Something about his is profoundly burned-out and displaced.” (18) He acts like a child. Wanders in the back field all day pretending he has no responsibilities, such as taking care of his father and getting a job of his own. He cannot support himself, he tried when he lived in New Mexico, but failed and is currently living with his parents. He is in a deep dark depression that he may never recover from.
This character would present anyone who would try to play him with a great deal of challenges. The most difficult of all would be to represent all of his aforementioned emotional and psychological problems accurately and to a point where the audience would have apathy for you. Throughout most of the play he is very short with his responses and he stares off appearing to be thinking nothing. But he has multiple points where he expresses deep emotion. Such as when his mother threatens to kick him out of the house again and all of the sudden he goes from a long stare to a slow soft sob. Also, when Bradley chases him out of the house he freaks out and starts crying and runs out of the house not to be seen until the end of the play. These emotional spikes would be hard to create because there is no emotional build up, he goes from zero to crying in no time, that takes extreme emotional discipline from the actor.