“Buried Child” brings unexpected twists

Corey Wackel

Famed playwright Sam Shepard once had the following to say about the American Dream: “I don’t know what the American Dream is. I do know it doesn’t work. Not only doesn’t it work, the myth of the American Dream has created extraordinary havoc, and it’s going to be our demise.” Shepard used this idea, and many other themes, when creating Buried Child, a play State University Theatre is putting on later this week.

First presented in 1978, Buried Child launched Shepard to national acclaim as a playwright and won him the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. With years of high praise for the project, the director and cast at SDSU were more than eager to bring the play to the stage.

“I’ve been a huge fan of the play for many years,” theater director J.D. Ackman said. “I’ve been at SDSU for 21 years and I’ve been trying to get the play for a while now. We finally got it into this season. Sam Shepard is, without question, one of the great American playwrights. There is so much to [Buried Child] and it gives the actors and me a lot to work with and consider.”

Echoing Ackman’s comments, theater actors like Andy Schnabel and Zach Swanson were eager to tackle the difficult material.

“It’s awesome to be given the chance to do this play,” Schnabel said. “We’ve been wanting to do this show for a long time now and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. Sam Shepard is the modern day Shakespeare and it is interesting to be able to do a show written by somebody so renowned.”

“I was not familiar with the source material,” Swanson said, “but I had heard about how good it was. It is my first foray into Shepard’s material and it really makes me want to delve deeper into his work. There is so much to his writing that isn’t caught on the first read through.”

While much of Buried Child’s plot cannot be discussed in full detail, Ackman did share a little bit about it.

“The basic set up is that a young man is coming home to visit his family,” Ackman said. “What he finds is not what he expects.”

Ackman was able to talk briefly about the themes and finding the right cast to present them on the stage.

“With a play like this, I like to see how the actors feel about the script, the characters, and the themes,” Ackman noted. “The script seems to be based in reality but there are elements of surrealism and symbolism that make it a potentially exciting piece of theater. Shepard is known for writing about the mythos of the American West and about rugged individualism. This play is set in Illinois and there are references to the West and it’s presented as this place to where we escape. In this particular story, though, there is no escape.”

“It’s something new for me,” Swanson said. “It is the darkest show I have been involved in but it is interesting to see how people can incorporate so much of it into [their own lives] when it is such a serious show.”

With the serious and frequently dark tone, though, both the cast and director hope that people are not deterred from seeing the production.

“It is heavy material,” Schnabel said, “but people are not exposed to it on a daily basis. The play comes across more as a movie than a play and it is a nice change of pace for theater. Hopefully they will love it when they come to see it.”

“I would advise people not to come with preconceived notions,” Swanson said. “Everyone can relate to at least one of the characters in some regard.”

Overall, Ackman praised the cast and said that seeing Buried Child gives audience members the opportunity to see what he considers to be one of the great American plays.

“It has been terrific working with the cast,” Ackman said. “They really are some of the finest actors on campus and none of them were hesitant about tackling the material. Buried Child is the Death of a Salesman of another generation in its impact and in its ability to address issues [concerning] family and human values. The best plays are about human beings and this play is about what is to be human. I really just encourage people to come see it and judge for themselves.”

Buried Child will be presented as the first show of the new year and will open with an initial evening show on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. Evening shows will then be at the same time through Saturday, Feb. 18. The production will continue on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and will run through Saturday, Feb. 25 at the same time. A Sunday matinee will be presented at 2 p.m. on Feb. 26.

Tickets for the show are currently on sale and are available from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. Tickets can also be purchased at 6 p.m. on performance nights through Saturday, Feb. 25. SDSU students can attend the performance for free. Individual ticket prices are $18 for adults, $16 for senior citizens, $12 for faculty and staff, and $11 for non-SDSU students and children.