“PAIN IS PAIN. PURE AND SIMPLE.”
Flawless performance … It’s raining in the Heartland, on a barren, lifeless parcel in East Central Illinois where the irascible Dodge, his petulant wife Halie and their dysfunctional sons are living out their tepid, worthless lives. The rain exasperates Dodge’s declining health which is fueled by Gold Star Sour Mash whiskey, nicotine, depression, anxiety, and guilt. It’s a formidable bag to unpack for Larry Yando, one of Chicago’s revered actors, whose flawless performance brilliantly anchors the Writers Theatre production of Sam Shepard’s 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Buried Child. This is a disturbingly dark, raw purposeful drama for which Writers Resident Director Kimberly Senior has assembled a top-flight cast and exposes the long-term effects of grief and remorse while delivering a powerful, one-two punch!
Open wound … Perhaps there were better day’s years ago, when the farm was thriving and productive. Dodge and Halie (Shannon Cochran) raised three sons, Tilden (Mark L. Montgomery) and Bradley (Timothy Edward Kane), who are very much in the picture, and Ansel, who died unexpectedly and is not. The root cause of Dodge’s bitterness and the secret that is an open wound for the fractured family has now allowed their reality to erode completely. Whatever bounty that once existed outside the ramshackle house is now a wasteland. Tilden, has slinked back from New Mexico, penniless and broken. Bradley, an amputee from an encounter with a chainsaw, is steeped in resentment. And Halie, who has now taken a fancy to Father Dewis (Allen Gilmore), lives in a tortured, twisted reality that almost appears normal compared to everyone else even as she chimes in from the bedroom upstairs, “Pain is pain. Pure and simple.” There is a lot of that to go around.
Gut-wrenching climax … Things take a turn when grandson Vince (Shane Kenyon) and his girlfriend Shelly (Arti Ishak) arrive on their way to see their father in New Mexico when they realize that Tilden has come back home. Nobody seems to recognize him, which is at the heart of the story leading to a gut-wrenching climax that will leave you stunned.
Commanding presence … Yando’s commanding presence spews forth effortlessly, whether he is alone on stage or amid the chaos that is unfolding around him. Cochran’s manic sensitivity intersects perfectly with the powerhouse supporting performances of Montgomery and Kane. Kenyon deftly navigates a challenging role. Ishak’s unsettling panic is palpable.
Hauntingly bleak … The imposing Jack Magaw set design, with a jutting second story framed with partially opaque exits in all directions, is hauntingly bleak when paired with Heather Gilbert's rich lighting, Mieka van der Ploeg's costumes, and sound design by Mikhail Fiksel. Scott Dickens props crew is working overtime to stay ahead of the mayhem.
The takeaway … considering the title, this is an adventure. It’s like Dodge says: “Much better to not know anything.” You'll certainly be husked.