Until now, with Sam Shepard's "Buried Child," A Noise Within had never produced a play that looked as if it might be set in contemporary times.
Even now, the Glendale company hasn't deserted the classics. It's showing us that "Buried Child" is a classic. The play crackles with all the dark comedy and tantalizing mystery it offered 20 years ago, when Shepard first unleashed it.
This is a surprise after seeing Shepard's 1995 revised text of "Buried Child" in a production at Theatre 40 last fall. The new script didn't seem an improvement, and the play didn't retain its power.
By contrast, A Noise Within uses the original 1978 text. Of course the productions differ in key aspects beyond the texts. Even allowing for that, however, it looks as if the elements of mystery that were softened in Shepard's 1995 revision are a vital part of what makes the play so gripping.
Physically, the play fits into A Noise Within's theater much better than into Theatre 40's. A staircase that the matriarch descends, after a long prelude while she speaks from offstage, requires sufficient height, which is not a problem in Glendale. Ken Booth's texturedlighting helps the play come alive.
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott's staging captures just about every nuance of Shepard's edgy portrait of an Illinois farm family with a not-so-buried secret, and she adds a few details that appear to be fresh.
Most conspicuous of these is, of all things, a spittoon. Geoff Elliott's Tilden, the play's severely damaged man-child, lugs it around with him as if it's a teddy bear, and he uses it often (if this offends you, you might want to avoid the seats on the south side). Elliott usually plays far more talkative characters in a more calculated style, but here he's strong and raw. He hurls ears of corn like the football player Tilden once was.
Neil Vipond's old Dodge carefully checks the level of liquor in his contraband bottle at every opportunity and uses coughs for maximum emphasis. June Claman's stern countenance is perfect for Dodge's bitter wife Halie, but her flirting with Apollo Dukakis' clueless clergyman is equally memorable. Robert Pescovitz's Bradley is a formidable young tough--until he loses his artificial leg.
Representing the outside world and the younger generation, Jill Hill quickly overcomes the first impression of her chirpy voice. The part of grandson Vince was beefed up in the 1995 rewrite, but Louis Lotorto's performance doesn't need the extra lines to make Vince compelling.
"Buried Child," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m.; April 15-16, 24, May 2, 6-7, 13-14, 23, 8 p.m.; April 25, 2 p.m.; May 3, 2 and 7 p.m.; May 23, 2 and 8 p.m. Ends May 23. $22-$27. (818) 546-1924.
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Neil Vipond: Dodge
June Claman: Halie
Geoff Elliott: Tilden
Robert Pescovitz: Bradley
Jill Hill: Shelly
Louis Lotorto: Vince
Apollo Dukakis: Father Dewis
Sam Shepard's play. Directed by Julia Rodriguez Elliott. Set designer Rick Ortenblad. Costume designer Brenda Plakans. Lighting designer Ken Booth. Sound designer Jeff Fairbanks. Stage manager Jennifer Moss.