I saw a production of Sam Shepard's play *Buried Child* off Broadway on 3/31, presented by The New Group at Signature Theatre. The draw of the play, apart from the play itself (which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979), was the cast: Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, and Taissa Farmiga, among others. Harris and Madigan (married in real life) had done a few plays in town over the last couple of years, but they were never really things I was interested in - - so this was my first time seeing either of them onstage. I know Farmiga from seasons one and three of *American Horror Story*, and from the movie *The Bling Ring*.
Harris was the best thing in the show, he gave an effortless and powerful performance. He and Madigan both owned the language in a deeply satisfying way. One of the problems with having a movie star like Harris in a play is how do you keep the audience from applauding when the lights come up? I'm not generally bothered by that, if it's the right kind of play, and this was NOT. The director avoided that by having Harris onstage, sitting on the couch, watching TV and smoking, as the audience took their seats.
The first ten minutes of the play have the Harris character on the couch and his wife, the Madigan character, upstairs, talking to him. She does about 80% of the talking in this scene, offstage. Her voice had a very particular smoky quality, and she spoke with a slightly annoying, entirely appropriate singsong quality. Her voice sounded eerily like someone else, and it took ten minutes for me to figure out who it was. She sounded like Martha Freakin' Raye. Can you imagine.
Farmiga is only 21, and this show was her theatrical debut, so I'll cut her some slack. She gave a good performance, but she sometimes trailed off at the end of a sentence, so I often had trouble understanding what she was saying.
One other thing: I'm always curious to see what references and remembrances I conjure up in a show. Martha Raye was the weirdest one this time. I also was picking up on flavors of Albee and Pinter, a big time Pinter vibe, the play felt like a Shepard doing *The Homecoming*. But I had another bizarre thought - - let me set the stage. The 1970s. An isolated house in the country. A pretty young woman alone in the house, having creepy dealings with a grandpa type and two back woods menacing sons. Am I the only person who was reminded of *The Texas Chainsaw Massacre*? The movie was made in 1974, this play was first presented in 1978. Had Shepard seen the movie?