Blood Ties

Buried Child and Women in Jeopardy appeal to many audiences

Annette Hillman and Rhonda Hallquist in Women in Jeopardy

Any theater taking on the task of bringing to life Sam Shepard's 1979 Pulitzer prize-winning play Buried Child bites off a piece of meat that challenges even the sturdiest of molars. It's tasty but tough.

Shepard's body of work will no doubt become a theatrical/literary signature of a time in U.S. history when all the pieces of culture, economics and the nature of the abiding feature of what had nurtured us into the downside of the 20th century—the family—seemed to have been thrown into the air by an unfriendly dust devil. Pieces falling back to earth have been strewn this way and that, begging to be put back together in some sort of recognizable shape. Shepard attempts this with a dusky eye, a sense of the mythic and poetic and with fearless storytelling, and the shape he produces echoes with the familiar but is also grossly different, bulging here and there, threadbare there and absurdly sketched here. 

Speak the Speech Theatre is a rather young and small group unafraid to tackle the big shot playwrights, and they have given us a chance to see what turns out to be one of two versions of Buried Child to be let loose on the Tucson theater scene in a matter of weeks. Winding Road Theater Ensemble opens their version in May.

Shepard's story shines a fuzzy kind of light on a family in all kinds of disarray. Dodge (Ken Beider), the patriarch, is hacking and wheezing on his deathbed, with cigarettes and whiskey still his solace. He and his wife Halie (Lissa Staples) don't speak to each other; they shout, as he is laid out on the ragged sofa and she is putting on her church clothes upstairs. Son Tilden (Boz Lomasney), a hulking dimwit, husks corn he claims to have harvested from the for-years-fallow fields of the farm. He's returned home after some unspecified trouble in New Mexico and has been told he cannot stay. Son Bradley (David Wang) is a strange one-legged and ominous presence, and church-bound Halie brags about dead son Ansel, to whom a statue is to be erected; he will stand with a basketball in one hand and a gun in the other. Into this scene comes Tildon's son, Vince (Marcus Gallegos), and Vince's chipper girlfriend Shelly (Veronica Conran), who is initially friendly, but whose eyes widen as the action becomes increasingly uncomfortable and even hostile.

And that buried child? A son that didn't make it, Dodge claims. And he would know.

Director Dan Reichel gives us an imperfect production—the acting is uneven, some of the blocking seems odd, and the march toward the disturbing ending is a bit too halting. Even so, the power of Shepard's play is evident. The term "broken family" takes on a new dimension here: limping, ugly, dying, even as an unrecognizable new generation takes over and long fallow fields become mysteriously fruitful.

Both STS and WRTE have very reasonable tickets prices. Take yourself to both productions and experience different takes on a difficult piece. It's a rare opportunity.

Over at Live Theatre Workshop, there is not one bit of serious content as a competent cast romps through a silly story that evokes many a har-har-har.

Women in Jeopardy, a comedy by Wendy MacLeod, is about potential serial killers, middle-aged befuddlement and youthful have-not-a clue-ness and features a cast with a knack for finding fun.

Liz (Missie Scheffman), Jo (Annette Hillman) and Mary (Rhonda Hallquist) are gal pals who love wine and each other. All have supported each other through divorces, but Jo and and Mary are shocked when Liz brings a beau to their regular Tuesday wine fest, and not just because he was not invited. He's weird. Very weird. Yeah, he may look a bit like Stephen King, but he actually more resembles one of King's creepy creations. While Liz elaborates gleefully on her re-discovered sexual desire, her friends become convinced that this is not at all a good match. They're not jealous, really, they agree; he just creeps them out. Oh, and he's a dentist, and as strange fortune would have it, one of his hygienists has gone missing that same day.

It doesn't take too long for the girls to jump to near-certain conviction that Dr. Weirdo is behind the abduction. When they find out that the questionably good doctor is taking Liz's 19-year-old daughter camping, they conspire to nip that little venture in the bud. They try to enlist the efforts of the detective in charge, who bears an eerie resemblance to the most assuredly abducting dentist. When that effort seems to be a dead end (except that Mary and the detective seem to elicit a spark or two), into the hills the duo head, hopeful they will head off some deadly tomfoolery.

With Hallquist, Hillman and Scheffman, there is plenty of seasoned talent on display here. But the young'uns almost steal the show. Emily Gates as Amanda, Liz's daughter, is a compact, full-bosomed vision of eye-rolling trouble, and Danny Quinones as Trenner is a ski-boarding young buck who mistakes Mary's request to crash the camping trip to protect Amanda as a come-on from an older woman, an surprising proposition he is willing to give a shot. Quinones energizes each scene in which he takes part.

Richard Ivey also takes an impressive turn as both dentist and detective, a sort of Jekyll/Hyde thing. He's taken some years away from LTW, but he proves himself a welcome veteran.

Director Roberto Guajardo tries his best to cover the rather long and tedious scene changes by charging sound designer Michael Martinez to find some appropriate music to rescue the pesky lulls. The play requires several settings, a tall order for almost any group, and Martinez comes up with some good stuff, though it doesn't totally make up for the stuttering momentum. Ah, if only LTW had a revolving stage—I bet scene designer Richard Gremel would put it to good use. His kitchen set here is quite lovely.

This is all for fun and fun for all. Perhaps some characterizations might be a bit crisper, but that doesn't take away too much from a comedy bonanza.