Sam Shepard's Buried Child was probably once a marvel to witness when it came out in 1978, but today it's hard to decipher what's even at stake and why this nuclear family is so badly tormented. In the New Group's off-Broadway revival, there's a lot to like, led by a star-studded cast helmed by real-life couple Ed Harris (Dodge) and Amy Madigan (Matie).
Set in a cramped Illinois farmhouse, the play opens with Dodge who has fallen on tough times due partly to illness and alcohol abuse, and to mourning mysteriously over the loss of a son. It's difficult, however, to determine how recent this loss was, and the circumstances that led to it. In any play, there will be secrets that come out slowly over the course of the show. In Child, though, there's too much of a cryptic sense around the intrigue that the play suffers. It's hard not to feel so completely in the dark throughout the first act that you must have missed out on something.
The couple have several living children including Tilden (played by Paul Sparks), who adds more curiosity than answers.The second half picks up when Tilden's 20-year-old son Vince (Nat Wolff), drops in on the family accompanied by his friend Shelly (Taissa Farmiga). The play has some funny moments and spots of elucidation, but it quickly fades back into a peculiar mess of eccentric characters one-upping each other with their erratic behavior.
Director Scott Elliott tries to demonstrate what makes this family so beloved by its members -- a category that grows to include Vince -- yet ultimately it's hard to understand why anyone would stick around. There's something missing from this production that would be better off spoken of and spoken for.