URI Theatre's current production is "Buried Child", a play by Sam Shepard that won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It opened in New York on October 19, 1978. The setting is a squalid farm home occupied by a family filled with suppressed violence and an unease born of deep-seated unhappiness. The characters are a ranting, alcoholic grandfather; a sanctimonious grandmother who goes on drinking bouts with the local minister; and their sons, Tilden, an All-American football player now a hulking semi-idiot; and Bradley, who has lost one leg to a chain saw. Into their midst comes Vince, a grandson none of them recognizes or remembers, and his girlfriend, Shelly, who cannot comprehend the madness to which she is suddenly introduced. The family harbors a dark secret- years earlier the grandfather, Dodge, had buried his wife's illegitimate baby in an undisclosed spot in the backyard, creating a cloud of guilt which is dispelled when Tilden unearths the child's mummified remains and carries it upstairs to his mother. His act purges the of its infamy and a new beginning under Vince, whose estrangement from the others has spared him the taint of their sin. Director Alan Hawkridge casts these 7 roles wonderfully and his cast delivers a stunning performance of this thought provoking and riveting play.
This play probes into the disintegration of the American Dream. Shepard's corrosive vision of the American family and civilization in decline is shown in his portrayal of this very dysfunctional family. Josh Short is terrific as the drunken old grandfather who finally confesses his sin. His hair and goatee are sprayed gray as he captures the essence of this dried up old man at the end of his miserable life. His haughty seemingly religious wife, Hallie, is beautifully played by Crystal Guilbert. She screams at her husband interminably from upstairs before she finally enters the scene clad in a black dress. She berates him for letting Tilden shuck corn in the living room. When she finally returns home clad in a yellow dress, she is accompanied by the minister, Father Dewis well played by Patrick Poole. Joe Kidawski is excellent as the dimwitted Tilden who constantly spits into a spittoon as he shucks the corn. He makes the audience empathize with these poor tortured creature who desperately wants to reveal the family secret at last.
Playing the vicious one-legged son, Bradley is James Joseph. He shaves his father's head on his first entrance and then terrorizes Tilden and Shelly on his second entrance. When Bradley is bullied by Vince, the audience roots for Vince because of Bradley's bad behavior earlier on. The only other person Bradley is frightened of, is his mother. Tyler Fisher as Vince and Stephanie Sherman as Shelly bring life to the show and to the dilapidated farm house, too. Tyler is a whirlwind as the forgotten son and grandson who wants them to remember him. He is also marvelous when he returns after drinking all night and takes over the farmhouse from his family. Stephanie has some of the funniest lines in the show and she makes each of them count. Her energetic and compelling performance as Shelly is wonderful to behold. So for a dramatic and comic look at Sam Shepard's view of this Illinois farm family and all their crazy behavior and secrets, be sure to catch "Buried Child" to see some topnotch acting by college students.