Monday, February 17, 2014

ENGL 372: Buried Child

Dodge is buried in corn husks by Tilden. Image from The New York Times

(I apologize in advance if it seems like my thoughts are unfinished or not as tightly worded. I've had an awesome but very long weekend and I'd like to keep this brief!)

This semester, I begin my Studies in Drama class, a look into modern American theatre. I'm going to write short posts about these plays in order to keep track of what I've read and a few of the things we've talked about in class. First on our reading list is Sam Shepard's Buried Child. This play is wacko. It's something I imagine must be absolutely haunting to see live. It's a character-driven story taking place in the old farmhouse of Dodge and Halie, a place where symbolism is oozing from the wooden floorboards. Power shifts occur every time someone walks in or out of the living room where the play takes place. Several characters are "buried" by props like a rabbit fur coat and the vegetables that oldest son Tilden brings in from the yard. The first act sets the foundation with a realistic, comical, homey setting featuring the back-and-forth bickering of Dodge and Halie. From there, things start getting really weird really fast and I really enjoyed reading it. It can be read in an afternoon, and I recommend it.

I'm finding more and more that I love reading magic realism. It's funny, because Mrs. Healey told me back in high school that she thought I would. I hope someday I'll be that insightful with my students.

In class, we've briefly discussed old farmer Dodge as being decrepit and withering, someone who has lost his virility. He is sexually inactive, sickly, and constantly consuming whiskey that he keeps hidden under the sofa that he is confined to. We also see him on stage for the entirety of the play. His wife, Halie, is pretty much the opposite. She spends the majority of the play offstage, either upstairs in her room or out of the house. Dodge teases her and implies that she is and used to be promiscuous, which is later implied to be true when she goes out drinking with the local preacher. She is also an authoritative voice in the house, and it's interesting to watch the power shift in the room between characters when her strong, motherly, and opinionated self comes and goes.

Tilden has clearly been traumatized by something, and his ritualistic actions of picking corn and root vegetables out back that shouldn't be there and bringing them in show a desire to dig up the past and share it. Whenever he brings something in, he needs everyone to do something with them. He offers them to the other characters. He buries Dodge in corn husks and gives the carrots to Shelly so that she can cut them with him.

I think Shelly herself can be seen as a vehicle for the audience to interact with the characters. She's an outsider to this family, just as we are. In her short time at the house, she too can tell that there is a secret being covered up, and she wants to know what it is. If you look at it this way, the play can get even weirder, because then some lines, like when Dodge basically says "Who do you think you are to try and dredge up our secret?"could be seen as an eerie question being posed to you personally.

Bradley, the professor suggested, is a sort of "castration figure," a character filled with symbolism relating to it. He is an amputee, and he cuts Dodge's hair with shears whenever Dodge falls asleep. He's an interesting character in that he is an overbearing, ominous, uncomfortable character to be around most of the time, but when Halie is in the room, he seems to regress. He spends a whole page at one point whining like a child because Halie took a blanket from him.

Vince. Yipes. With the play's bizarre and disturbing conclusion, I'm not sure what to think about Vince. It just poses so many heavy questions, and I am going to need more time to process how he fits into it all. It should be an exciting concluding discussion in tomorrow's class.

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