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Theatre / Buried Child

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Buried Child by Sam Shepard debuted in 1978 and has been continuously performed and discussed by theatre students and dramaturgs alike ever since. In 1996, a revised edition which only served to further confound directors and actors alike was produced.

The story begins in a dilapidated farmhouse in Illinois. Dodge is a man is his seventies living out his final hours on a couch. He talks to his wife Halie and harasses his eldest son, Tilden. When Dodge falls asleep, his younger son, Bradley, comes in, hacks off his hair and nicks his scalp. Just when the play couldn't get any stranger, Vince, a young man in his twenties, and his girlfriend Shelly walk in. Vince claims to be Tilden's son, but nobody in the family recognizes him. Frustrated, Vince leaves the house, and Shelly is confronted with the family's darkest secret: Tilden had a baby that went missing years ago.

This play provides examples of:

  • Absurdism: Straddles the line between this and Postmodernism.
  • Abusive Parents: Dodge and Halie emotionally abuse both Tilden and Bradley onstage. Prior to the events of the play, Halie has sex with Tilden producing a baby which Dodge drowns.
  • The Alcoholic: Dodge. Halie and Vince have quite a bit to drink too.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Bradley lost his leg to a chainsaw prior to the events of the play.
  • Artificial Limbs: Bradley sports a prosthetic leg.
  • Dead All Along: Vince, maybe. He claims to be Tilden's son, but Tilden's only child is buried in the backyard.
  • Dirty Old Man: Dodge makes a few lecherous comments to Shelly, referring to her specifically as a
  • Down on the Farm: A subversion. The play takes place in an old farmhouse in Illinois, but the farm hasn't been cared for in thirty-some years.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Dodge is a dying alcoholic with a nicotine addiction. Halie has a sex addiction. Ansel died in a motel room on his honeymoon. Tilden had a child with Halie which was murdered and now suffers from dissociation. Bradley is a controlling, angry man who lost one of his legs in a chainsaw accident. Vince is Tilden's son who may not actually exist. He also loves his liquor and isn't ashamed of leaving his girlfriend in the house while he runs away.
  • Eldritch Location: The backyard. It's never seen onstage but Tilden repeatedly brings in vegetables from it. Dodge and Halie both claim that there are no vegetables outside and accuse Tilden of stealing them from a neighbor. It is also the place that Tilden's child was buried. The house itself arguably counts, as Shelly offhandedly mentions it feels familiar, despite her never having been there before.
  • Empathic Environment: It's raining through the first two acts. The sun comes out for the third act. Subverted, as the third act is by no means cheerier for the added light (or at least not in any way that matters).
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Played with. Bradley defends his mother but is also emotionally abused by her which led to his current emotional state.
  • Evil Matriarch: Halie is the dramatic kind.
  • Flyover Country: Set in Illinois. The only reason Vince and Shelly are there is that they were driving from New York to New Mexico and were passing through.
  • Freudian Excuse: Tilden and Bradley were both abused which leads to Tilden's dissociation and Bradley's aggressive and controlling nature.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: When Shelly says that she's a vegetarian, Dodge replies that Hitler was also a vegetarian.
  • Identical Grandson: When Vince takes over Dodge's role in the finale.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Dodge suffers from this, with the play opening on him sitting alone on the sofa coughing and ending with him dead on the floor under a blanket Vince threw over him.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The first two acts both take place during a heavy rainstorm.
  • Let the Past Burn: Dodge asks to have some of his belongings torched after his death, along with his corpse.
  • Na´ve Newcomer: Shelly may say that she's "been around," but she's certainly not been around a family like this before.
  • Not Quite Dead: Vince, if he's the baby that was drowned...
  • Offing the Offspring: Dodge drowns and buries Tilden and Halie's baby.
  • Only Sane Man: Shelly, being the only one who isn't related. Vince seems to be this until he returns in act three, drunk, aggressive, delusional, and undoubtedly a member of the family. The preacher is also arguably this, since while he's definitely a hypocrite, he's not crazy.
  • Parental Incest: Vincent is likely Tilden and Halie's son.
  • The Patriarch: Dodge is a subversion and a deconstruction. Nobody even pretends that Dodge is still in control of the family and he ends up mercilessly bullied.
  • Tragic Monster: Bradley arguably becomes one during the third act when his emotional immaturity and physical limitations are brought to the forefront when Shelly takes his prosthetic leg and Halie berates him. There's no doubt where he got his unbalanced tendencies from.
  • Postmodernism: Straddles the line between this and Absurdism.
  • Really Gets Around: Confirmed with Halie as she is currently sleeping with Father Dewis, and previously slept with Tilden, both during her marriage to Dodge. In the first act, she converses with Dodge about a past lover of hers, a Thoroughbred breeder.
  • Sinister Minister: Father Dewis is a mild example, but he's easily as sinful as the rest of the cast as he commits adultery with Halie and does nothing about the abuse he sees occurring within the house.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Vince isn't recognized by his grandfather or his father. He can't handle things emotionally and leaves the house early on in act two. When he returns in act three, he is drunk, delusional, and sets out destroying the family's house by cutting through a screen. It's only the family's recognition of him that stops his rage.