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About the author
Sam Shepard is the Pulitzer Prize—winning author of more than fifty-five plays and numerous works of fiction. He was a finalist for the W. H. Smith Literary Award for his story collection Great Dream of Heaven. He has also written the story collections Cruising Paradise and Day Out of Days, two collections of prose pieces, Motel Chronicles and Hawk Moon, and Rolling Thunder Logbook, a diary of Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Review tour. As an actor he has appeared in more than sixty films, including Days of Heaven, Crimes of the Heart, Steel Magnolias, The Pelican Brief, Snow Falling on Cedars, All the Pretty Horses, Black Hawk Down, and The Notebook. He received an Oscar nomination in 1984 for his performance in The Right Stuff. His screenplay for Paris, Texas won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, and he wrote and directed the film Far North in 1988 and co-wrote and starred in Wim Wenders’ Don’t Come Knocking in 2005. Shepard’ s plays, eleven of which have won Obie Awards, include The God of Hell, The Late Henry Moss, Simpatico, Curse of the Starving Class, True West, Fool for Love, and A Lie of the Mind, which won a New York Drama Desk Award. In 2012 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Shepard received the Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy in 1992, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.
A newly revised edition of an American classic, Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize—winning Buried Child is as fierce and unforgettable as it was when it was first produced in 1978.
A scene of madness greets Vince and his girlfriend as they arrive at the squalid farmhouse of Vince’s hard-drinking grandparents, who seem to have no idea who he is. Nor does his father, Tilden, a hulking former All-American footballer, or his uncle, who has lost one of his legs to a chain saw. Only the memory of an unwanted child, buried in an undisclosed location, can hope to deliver this family from its sin.
Buried Child, the revised edition, was produced on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre by Frederick Zollo, Nicholas Paleologos, Jane Harmon, Nina Keneally, Gary Sinise, Edwin Schloss, and Liz Oliver on April 30, 1996. The production transferred from the premiere production at Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Martha Lavey, Artistic Director; Michael Gennaro, Managing Director) in Chicago, Illinois, which opened on October 1, 1995. It was directed by Gary Sinise; the set design was by Robert Brill; the costume design was by Allison Reeds; the lighting design was by Kevin Rigdon; the sound design was by Rob Milburn; and the production stage manager was Laura Koch. The cast was as follows:
DODGE James Gammon
HALIE Lois Smith
TILDEN Terry Kinney
BRADLEY Leo Burmester
SHELLY Kellie Overbey
VINCE Jim True
FATHER DEWIS Jim Mohr
Buried Child was produced at Theater for the New City, in New York City, on October 19, 1978. It was directed by Robert Woodruff. The cast was as follows:
DODGE Richard Hamilton
HALIE Jacqueline Brookes
TILDEN Tom Noonan
BRADLEY Jay O. Sanders
SHELLY Mary McDonnell
VINCE Christopher McCann
FATHER DEWIS Bill Wiley
Buried Child received its premiere at the Magic Theatre, in San Francisco, California, on June 27, 1978. It was directed by Robert Woodruff. The cast was as follows:
DODGE Joseph Gistirak
HALIE Catherine Willis
TILDEN Dennis Ludlow
BRADLEY William M. Carr
SHELLY Betsy Scott
VINCE Barry Lane
FATHER DEWIS Rj Frank
DODGE in his seventies
HALIE Dodge's wife; mid-sixties
TILDEN their oldest son
BRADLEY their next oldest son, an amputee
VINCE Tilden's son
SHELLY Vince's girlfriend
FATHER DEWIS a Protestant minister
Scene: day. Old wooden staircase down left with pale, frayed carpet laid down on the steps. The stairs lead offstage left up into the wings with no landing. Up right is an old, dark green sofa with the stuffing coming out in spots. Stage right of the sofa is an upright lamp with a faded yellow shade and a small night table with several small bottles of pills on it. Down right of the sofa, with the screen facing the sofa, is a large, old-fashioned brown TV. A flickering blue light comes from the screen, but no image, no sound. In the dark, the light of the lamp and the TV slowly brighten in the black space. The space behind the sofa, upstage, is a large screened-in porch with a board floor. A solid interior door to stage right of the sofa leads from the porch to the outside. Beyond that are the shapes of dark elm trees.
Gradually the form of dodge is made out, sitting on the couch, facing the TV, the blue light flickering on his face. He wears a well-worn T-shirt, suspenders, khaki work pants, and brown slippers. He's covered himself in an old brown blanket. He's very thin and sickly looking, in his late seventies. He just stares at the TV. More light fills the stage softly. The sound of light rain. dodge slowly tilts his head back and stares at the ceiling for a while, listening to the rain. He lowers his head again and stares at the TV. He starts to cough slowly and softly. The coughing gradually builds. He holds one hand to his mouth and tries to stifle it. The coughing gets louder, then suddenly stops when he hears the sound of his wife's voice coming from the top of the staircase.
HALIE'S VOICE: Dodge? (DODGE just stares at the TV. Long pause. He stifles two short coughs.) Dodge! You want a pill, Dodge? (He doesn't answer. Takes a bottle out from under a cushion of the sofa and takes a long swig. Puts the bottle back, stares at the TV, pulls the blanket up around his neck.) You know what it is, don't you? It's the rain! Weather. That's it. Every time. Every time you get like this, it's the rain. No sooner does the rain start than you start. (Pause.) Dodge? (He makes no reply. Pulls a pack of cigarettes out from his sweater and lights one. Stares at the TV. Pause.) You should see it coming down up here. Just coming down in sheets. Blue sheets. The bridge is pretty near flooded. What's it like down there? Dodge? (DODGE turns his head back over his left shoulder and takes a look out through the porch. He turns back to the TV.)
DODGE: (To himself.) Catastrophic.
HALIE'S VOICE: What? What'd you say, Dodge?
DODGE: (Louder.) It looks like rain to me! Plain old rain!
HALIE'S VOICE: Rain? Of course it's rain! Are you having a seizure or something! Dodge? (Pause.) I'm coming down there in about five minutes if you don't answer me!
DODGE: Don't come down.
HALIE'S VOICE: What!
DODGE: (Louder.) Don't come down! (He has another coughing attack. Stops.)
HALIE'S VOICE: You should take a pill for that! I don't see why you just don't take a pill. Be done with it once and for all. Put a stop to it. (He takes the bottle out again. Another swig. Returns the bottle.) It's not Christian, but it works. It's not necessarily Christian, that is. A pill. We don't know. We're not in a position to answer something like that. There's some things the ministers can't even answer. I, personally, can't see anything wrong with it. A pill. Pain is pain. Pure and simple. Suffering is a different matter. That's entirely different. A pill seems as good an answer as any. Dodge? (Pause.) Dodge, are you watching baseball?
HALIE'S VOICE: What?
DODGE: (Louder.) No! I'm not watching baseball.
HALIE'S VOICE: What're you watching? You shouldn't be watching anything that'll get you excited!
DODGE: Nothing gets me excited.
HALIE'S VOICE: No horse racing!
DODGE: They don't race here on Sundays.
HALIE'S VOICE: What?
DODGE: (Louder.) They don't race on Sundays!
HALIE'S VOICE: Well, they shouldn't race on Sundays. The Sabbath.
DODGE: Well, they don't! Not here anyway. The boondocks.
HALIE'S VOICE: Good. I'm amazed they still have that kind of legislation. Some semblance of morality. That's amazing.
DODGE: Yeah, it's amazing.
HALIE'S VOICE: What?
DODGE: (Louder.) It is amazing!
HALIE'S VOICE: It is. It truly is. I would've thought these days they'd be racing on Christmas even. A big flashing Christmas tree right down at the finish line.
DODGE: (Shakes his head.) No. Not yet.
HALIE'S VOICE: They used to race on New Year's! I remember that.
DODGE: They never raced on New Year's!
HALIE'S VOICE: Sometimes they did.
DODGE: They never did!
HALIE'S VOICE: Before we were married they did!
DODGE: "Before we were married." (DODGE waves his hand in disgust at the staircase. Leans back in sofa. Stares at TV.)
HALIE'S VOICE: I went once. With a man. On New Year's.
DODGE: (Mimicking her.) Oh, a "man."
HALIE'S VOICE: What?
HALIE'S VOICE: A wonderful man. A breeder.
DODGE: A what?
HALIE'S VOICE: A breeder! A horse breeder! Thoroughbreds.
DODGE: Oh, thoroughbreds. Wonderful. You betcha. A breeder-man.
HALIE'S VOICE: That's right. He knew everything there was to know.
DODGE: I bet he taught you a thing or two, huh? Gave you a good turn around the old stable!
HALIE'S VOICE: Knew everything there was to know about horses. We won bookoos of money that day.
HALIE'S VOICE: Money! We won every race I think.
HALIE'S VOICE: Every single race.
DODGE: Bookoos of money?
HALIE'S VOICE: It was one of those kind of days.
DODGE: New Year's!
HALIE'S VOICE: Yes! It might've been Florida. Or California! One of those two.
DODGE: Can I take my pick?
HALIE'S VOICE: It was Florida!
HALIE'S VOICE: Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful! The sun was just gleaming. Flamingos. Bougainvilleas. Palm trees.
DODGE: (To himself, mimicking her.) Flamingos. Bougainvilleas.
HALIE'S VOICE: Everything was dancing with life! Colors. There were all kinds of people from everywhere. Everyone was dressed to the nines. Not like today. Not like they dress today. People had a sense of style.
DODGE: When was this anyway?
HALIE'S VOICE: This was long before I knew you.
DODGE: Must've been.
HALIE'S VOICE: Long before. I was escorted.
DODGE: To Florida?
HALIE'S VOICE: Yes. Or it might've been California. I'm not sure which.
DODGE: All that way you were escorted?
halie's voice: Yes.
DODGE: And he never laid a finger on you, I suppose? This gentleman breeder-man. (Long silence.) Halie? Are we still in the land of the living? (No answer. Long pause.)
HALIE'S VOICE: Are you going out today?
DODGE: (Gesturing toward rain.) In this?
HALIE'S VOICE: I'm just asking a simple question.
DODGE: I rarely go out in the bright sunshine, why would I go out in this?
HALIE'S VOICE: I'm just asking because I'm not doing any shopping today. And if you need anything you should ask Tilden.
DODGE: Tilden's not here!
HALIE'S VOICE: He's in the kitchen. (DODGE looks toward left, then back toward the TV.)
DODGE: All right.
HALIE'S VOICE: What?
DODGE: (Louder.) All right! I'll ask Tilden!
HALIE'S VOICE: Don't scream. It'll only get your coughing started.
DODGE: Scream? Men don't scream.
HALIE'S VOICE: Just tell Tilden what you want and he'll get it. (Pause.) Bradley should be over later.
HALIE'S VOICE: Yes. To cut your hair.
DODGE: My hair? I don't need my hair cut! I haven't hardly got any hair left!
HALIE'S VOICE: It won't hurt!
DODGE: I don't need it!
HALIE'S VOICE: It's been more than two weeks, Dodge.
DODGE: I don't need it! And I never did need it!
HALIE'S VOICE: I have to meet Father Dewis for lunch.
DODGE: You tell Bradley that if he shows up here with those clippers, I'll separate him from his manhood!
HALIE'S VOICE: I won't be very late. No later than four at the very latest.
DODGE: You tell him! Last time he left me near bald! And I wasn't even awake!
HALIE'S VOICE: That's not my fault!
DODGE: You put him up to it!
HALIE'S VOICE: I never did!
DODGE: You did too! You had some fancy, idiot house-social planned! Time to dress up the corpse for company! Lower the ears a little! Put up a little front! Surprised you didn't tape a pipe to my mouth while you were at it! That woulda looked nice! Huh? A pipe? Maybe a bowler hat! Maybe a copy of the Wall Street Journal casually placed on my lap! A fat labrador retriever at my feet.
HALIE'S VOICE: You always imagine the worst things of people!
DODGE: That's the least of the worst!
HALIE'S VOICE: I don't need to hear it! All day long I hear things like that and I don't need to hear more.
DODGE: You better tell him!
HALIE'S VOICE: You tell him yourself! He's your own son. You should be able to talk to your own son.
DODGE: Not while I'm sleeping! He cut my hair while I was sleeping!
HALIE'S VOICE: Well he won't do it again.
DODGE: There's no guarantee. He's a snake, that one.
HALIE'S VOICE: I promise he won't do it without your consent.
DODGE: (After pause.) There's no reason for him to even come over here.
HALIE'S VOICE: He feels responsible.
DODGE: For my hair?
HALIE'S VOICE: For your appearance.
DODGE: My appearance is out of his domain! It's even out of mine! In fact, it's disappeared! I'm an invisible man!
HALIE'S VOICE: Don't be ridiculous.
DODGE: He better not try it. That's all I've got to say.
HALIE'S VOICE: Tilden will watch out for you.
DODGE: Tilden won't protect me from Bradley!
HALIE'S VOICE: Tilden's the oldest. He'll protect you.
DODGE: Tilden can't even protect himself!
HALIE'S VOICE: Not so loud! He'll hear you. He's right in the kitchen.
DODGE: (Yelling off left.) Tilden!
HALIE'S VOICE: Dodge, what are you trying to do?
DODGE: (Yelling off left.) Tilden, get your ass in here!
HALIE'S VOICE: Why do you enjoy stirring things up?
DODGE: I don't enjoy anything!
HALIE'S VOICE: That's a terrible thing to say.
HALIE'S VOICE: That's the kind of statement that leads people right to an early grave.
HALIE'S VOICE: It's no wonder people have turned their backs on Jesus!
HALIE'S VOICE: It's no wonder the messengers of God's word are shouting louder now than ever before. Screaming to the four winds.
DODGE: TILDEN!!!! (DODGE goes into a violent, spasmodic coughing attack as tilden enters from left, his arms loaded with fresh ears of corn. TILDEN is dodge's oldest son, late forties, wears heavy construction boots covered with mud, dark green work pants, a plaid shirt, and a faded brown windbreaker. He has a butch haircut, wet from the rain. Something about him is profoundly burned-out and displaced. He stops center with the ears of corn in his arms and just stares at dodge until he slowly finishes his coughing attack. DODGE looks up at him slowly. DODGE stares at the corn. Long pause as they watch each other.)
HALIE'S VOICE: Dodge, if you don't take that pill nobody's going to force you. Least of all me. There's no honor in self-destruction. No honor at all. (The two men ignore the voice.)
DODGE: (To TILDEN.) Where'd you get that?
TILDEN: Picked it.
DODGE: You picked all that? (TILDEN nods.) You expecting company?
DODGE: Where'd you pick it from?
TILDEN: Right out back.
DODGE: Out back where?!
TILDEN: Right out in back.
DODGE: There's nothing out there--in back.
TILDEN: There's corn.
DODGE: There hasn't been corn out there since about nineteen thirty-five! That's the last time I planted corn out there!
TILDEN: It's out there now.
DODGE: (Yelling at stairs.) Halie!
HALIE'S VOICE: Yes, dear! Have you come to your senses?
DODGE: Tilden's brought a whole bunch of sweet corn in here! There's no corn out back, is there?
TILDEN: (To himself.) There's tons of corn.
HALIE'S VOICE: Not that I know of!
DODGE: That's what I thought.
HALIE'S VOICE: Not since about nineteen thirty-five!
DODGE: (To TILDEN.) That's right. Nineteen thirty-five. That was the last of it.
TILDEN: It's out there now.
DODGE: You go and take that corn back to wherever you got it from!
TILDEN: (After pause, staring at dodge.) It's picked. I picked it all in the rain. Once it's picked you can't put it back.
DODGE: I haven't had trouble with the neighbors here for fifty-seven years. I don't even know who the neighbors are! And I don't wanna know! Now go put that corn back where it came from! (TILDEN stares at dodge, then walks slowly over to him and dumps all the corn on dodge's lap and steps back. dodge stares at the corn then back to tilden. Long pause.) Are you having trouble here, Tilden? Are you in some kind of trouble again?
TILDEN: I'm not in any trouble.
DODGE: You can tell me if you are. I'm still your father.
TILDEN: I know that.
DODGE: I know you had a little trouble back there in New Mexico. That's why you came out here. Isn't that the reason you came back?
From the Trade Paperback edition.
In the press
“Shepard is an uncommon playwright and uncommonly gifted.” –The New York Times
“Wildly poetic, full of stage images and utterances replete with insidious suggestiveness.” –New York
“Shepard is one of the most prolific playwrights, and for that matter, certainly one of the most brilliant.” –New York Post
From the Trade Paperback edition.