BWW Review: BURIED CHILD Digs Up the Past and Positions New Community Theatre For Bright Future
Jordan Matt-Zeitler says he and Richard Matt-Zeitler packed up two years ago after ten years running Open House Theatre in Athens, IL to start Myriad Productions in St. Louis. They wanted to design a company that could produce new work as well as shows that aren't produced very often. "A myriad of shows," Jordan says when describing the company's vision. "One of our core tenets," he adds, "is that we will not produce a show that has been done within two years in the metro area." Also important to the mission is to bring unique approaches and shows to the St. Louis community theatre scene.
Buried Child by Sam Shepard, their current and second-ever production as Myriad, is now playing at The Olive Tree in the Grove. It is a dark, disturbing, and funny drama sprinkled with elements of gothic horror. It is the story of a family somewhere in rural Illinois. There's Dodge (Steve Garrett), a worn-down, dying alcoholic and his wife Hallie (Camille Fensterman), whose affair with the local minister, Father Dewis (Richard Matt-Zeitler), isn't much of a secret. Their son Tilden (Bill Conklin) has just shown up after running into some undivulged "problems" in New Mexico. He now claims the fields out back, which have been barren for decades, are bursting with harvest. Another son, Bradley (Kelvin Urday) lives nearby and drops in often (wearing or not wearing his prosthetic leg), seemingly to provoke his dying father. They're all a bit off-kilter, and most definitely disconnected one from the other, which is both alarming and amusing. It isn't until Dodge and Hallie's grandson Vincent (Duncan Phillips) and his girlfriend Shelly (Ashley Downs) stop in from New York on their way to New Mexico to visit Tilden that things really get weird. These two burst onto the farm like a breath of fresh air, until they too get trapped in the eccentric weirdness.
Admittedly, Buried Child is one of my personal favorites, so I was pleased with the smart and distinctive choices this cast brings to an already exceptional script. I usually try to meet theatres where they are, but there was no need at all to consider Myriad's new-kid-on-the-block status. Each actor infuses their (demanding) part with a brokenness that permeates each line and action. Jordan says he cast Conklin because Conklin would play Tilden in a way that no one has ever seen, and I'll admit I've never seen Tilden played quite like this. Kudos too to Garrett, whose Dodge is serious and intentional. In a role that could easily be overacted, Garrett plays it just right. The whole company works together with a nice harmony that seems well-studied and realistic. It must be noted here that Downs stepped into her role less than a week before opening night.
Producer/set designer Richard Matt-Zeitler's scenic design and Kara Richeson's lighting design lend an air of unmistakable suffering to the production. With its dingy walls, soiled and stained around photos that have been removed and relocated through the years, and its gold-upholstered furniture, there's something twisted and depressing about the house itself. In fact, but for one tiny oval mirror and an enormous wooden cross, there is a noticeable lack of wall décor in this Illinois farmhouse, although a small-but-prominent table downstage pays homage to someone lost long ago. A delicate white Orchid, symbolic of fertility and purity, is placed hauntingly, deliberately at the table's center. Costumes and makeup design are by Benjamin Hunt, both appropriate and thoughtful. Written and therefore presented in three acts, the two intermissions do feel a bit excessive in The Olive Tree's small space, but they also give the audience time to soak up and discuss the horror of it all. Produced and Directed by Jordan Matt-Zeitler with Co-Director Benjamin Hunt, this production of Buried Child is absorbing and worth checking out.
Myriad Productions can be found for now on Facebook, where they will be announcing more big plans over the next two years. For tickets to see this production of Buried Child, which plays through this Sunday, February 9, 2020, go to: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/myriad-productions-presents-buried-child-tickets-87142476493