Wait, what?! What just happened? Oh, Buried Child. That’s what just happened. San Jose Stage, you crazy, crazy theatre company. Leave it to you to take your audience on one messed up, wacky, WTF experience full of post-modern symbolism, bizarre dysfunction and theatrical deconstruction of the American Dream. I’m still not sure I understand it all, but for what it’s worth, you had me at corn.
Staccato, sharp, repetitious, repetitious and repetitious dialogue sometimes reveals what you’re on the edge of your seat wanting to discover and sometimes leaves you wracking your brain, afraid you’ve missed something. And, you probably did. But, if at any point you’re unsure about what’s going on, be not afraid, I guarantee you’re not alone. Novice or theatre expert, I’m skeptical either has the upper hand here. Don’t feel as though you need to be in complete control of this plot, I think it’s fair to say, that would be an exercise in futility. This is an active piece of theatre and I need to state for the record my headache started well before I sat down and was not a result of this play. Still I’m not convinced having a totally clear head would have resulted in me feeling any less loss at certain moments during the performance. Again, this is okay. Do not panic. Breath and proceed with your audience experience. Discussion most certainly to follow afterwards. I would advise not going alone as talking to yourself about this play might prove too much of life imitating the art you just saw.
Now, as is tradition with Sam Shepard and the postmodern style, humor is used to prevent us from crying or slitting our wrists during the production, which runs a quick 70 minute first act and 45 minute second act. Indeed, there are plenty of genuine, darkly sarcastic moments of comedy delivered with flawless timing and expression. There are also a fair number of moments you laugh at because you’re not sure what the heck is going on. Seemingly random moments that iron themselves out (or not) in time can just as easily elicit an uncomfortable laugh as an intended joke.
Symbolism and metaphor in the scenic design, in this case the actual “crack in reality and that elusive American Dream” that lies in the floor of the set, is consistent with the style portrayed in the writing and acting. It reads a bit pretentious for me personally, but it’s not really supposed to be taken that literal. Don’t expect that giant dirt crack to be functional or even acknowledged or you’ll be disappointed at the anticlimaticism (you know what I mean, I have a poetic license, get over it already) in it all. Aside from that aspect, a great use of space as usual from the director and design team. Lots of levels, horizontal and vertical used and my favorite; a door/closet on stage that’s never used. What skeletons lie in there I wonder. Very Sarah Winchester.
A+ to the technical crew for using costumes, makeup and props specifically to digustify (seriously, it’s a word) our cast. When I was little I remember loving acting because you got to be “pretty” on stage. After playing my first roles, a troll, a spider and a witch, I realized maybe there was more to it than glamour. Point and case, Buried Child. Due in part to the technical elements as well as the committed, professional acting, I was genuinely terrified I would get a disease, be stained, molested, or quite possibly go insane as a result of these characters. Gross, really gross. But, in the acceptably invasive, shock me out of my complacency kind of way. A healthy dose of liquid hand sanitizer remedied the heebie jeebies and allowed me to enjoy the dirt and grime, literally and figuratively of the performances.
My only real complaint (aside from my headache which cannot be pinned on as a result of nor expected to be remedied by this production) would be on occasion there was so much going on on stage I couldn’t hear what was being said. Now, I don’t know if it was truly “important” or not for me to hear, but I’ll never know due to the imbalance of the voluminous cacophony of action taking place.
I’m not going to lie; this play may disturb or frustrate you. It may not be your shot of whiskey, but it was done well like it or not. A good experience, experiment, and example of important and engaging theatre. I was tempted to give this show 4 out of 5 carrots, but in sticking with my pre-established scale we will have to suffice with a 4 carat jewels out of 5 carat jewels rating in the review tiara! Buried Child Plays through March 11th at the San Jose Stage.
**Parking can be a challenge if the Opera or Symphony is playing at the California Theatre and City Lights just around the corner has a show. There are plenty of lots and street parking but they get on the full side by 7:30 on a weekend evening. Make a night of it, come over early, eat dinner at Eulipia, Billy Berks, Smile Sushi, Morocco’s, Cabritos, 19 Market, House of Siam, Tandoori Oven, Pho 69, The Grill on the Alley, or Original Joe’s, JUST to name a few!
And, for an extra fun experience, take an Eco City Cycle pedicab for “free” (recommended tip of $5 for trips longer than three blocks). They provide blankets for cooler nights, and it’s a lovely way to save your feet, get to the theatre quicker and enjoy the city! Call them to come pick you up afterwards to take you to your car even!