Calling the Illinois farm family in Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” dysfunctional would be the understatement of the year. Here’s how patriarch Dodge puts it: “You think just because people propagate they have to love their offspring? You never seen a bitch eat her puppies?” These are the type of people who play keep-away with a man’s artificial leg. And that’s not the half of it.
Solid acting highlights Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s satisfying production, directed by Doug Van Liew.
J. Shane McClure plays Dodge, who’s supposed to be in his 70s, so he’s way too young for the role, but coughs, wheezes, rails loudly and chain-smokes his way through the play in a top-notch performance.
Craig Pruitt is Bradley, son of Dodge and Hailie (Linda McDonald), who accidentally cut off his leg with a chain saw and, therefore, wouldn’t look out of place in “Deliverance.” Combined with his excellent performance last year as the good-fornothing grandson in “August: Osage County,” Pruitt’s work here proves him to be an actor who’s second to none in playing addled, weird or disturbing characters. You’ll thrill in his intensity, but feel a little relieved when he exits the stage.
In a completely convincing performance — and perhaps his best work yet — Daniel Leeman Smith plays Vince, Dodge and Hailie’s sax-playing grandson who shows up unexpectedly with his girlfriend, Shelley. He hasn’t visited for six years, and when he sees his father (Johnnie Payne), who Hailie says is “not in control of his faculties,” the disbelief and disappointment show on Smith’s face.
Vince is the only one in the family who seems to have something going for him, but by the end, one wonders if this clan’s dysfunction is genetic.
In fact, Vince didn’t want to make this visit, but is there because Shelley insisted on it. Holly McNatt is delightfully giddy as Shelley when she first arrives at the old home, but goes into somewhat of a shell when she confronts the family and the play’s core issues. It’s a tricky role.
Shepard likes to give characters deep, dark secrets, and why Dodge finally reveals one to Shelley isn’t clear. But it also isn’t clear at first whether he is telling the truth. Honesty is not a high priority in this faulty family.
Van Liew has designed an effective, schematic set, enhanced by James Polk Wilson’s lighting design. Brenda Nelson’s costumes are authentic to the point you can almost smell the body odor.