Written by 12:17 am Costa Mesa, Costa Mesa Playhouse, Review, Theater, Uncategorized

Buried Child @ Costa Mesa Playhouse – Review

Photo by Kerrin Piché Serna

Written by Patrick Chavis

The Pulitzer Prize-winning production of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, playing now at Costa Mesa Playhouse, brings back this brilliant play with a staging that does the material justice and shows us why it is just as relevant as when it initially arrived in the 1970’s.


The play Buried Child is worthy of multiple simultaneous descriptors–quite similar to America. Buried Child chronicles a family living on a farm in Illinois in the 1970s. The play centers around a sickly old farmer named Dodge, and his wife Halie–played respectively by Michael Dale Brown and Shelly May.  As the show progresses, we watch various family members and acquaintances come in and out of the house. But there’s more going on in here than an old man watching TV. There is something dark and bizarre happening with this family and the entire situation.

Michael Dale Brown as Dodge

One of the most impressive things about this play is its straightforwardness. There are a lot of profound messages in this play, and it’s not trying to hide or bury anything. Lol. Still, you could ignore all of the messages, and there would still be an intriguing storyline surrounding this mysterious family somewhere in Rural Illinois. Now turn on your brain,  add a little metaphorical and historical perspective, and you’ll be astounded by how rich and American this play is.


In the well-known Sam Shepard tradition, this set is not a tender-manicured place for acting. It is a place where the performers can leave their authentic mark on the space—kicking, smashing, destroying, littering.

That’s how I describe the direction from Michael Serna in this piece: authentic but also piercing. Even in the less chaotic scenes, just conversations between Tilden (played by Peter Hilton) and Dodge (played by Michael Dale Brown) this is evident. We understand the dynamic between these characters very quickly, and while it is apparent in the words, it is even more evident in how they interact with each other. Hilton was able to play a character that seems daft but also broken and more capable than you might think, all at the same time. From the piercing conversations to its effect on the actors. To the scenes and moments that descend into explosive chaos on stage. It is truly a theatrical experience you do not want to miss.

Shelly May as Halie (Photo by Kerrin Piché Serna)

Set Design:

Antonio Beach approached this production with a deceptively layered design. We see a desolate farmhouse, yes, but there is more. So much more. The background of the set has a wall that can change different colors, from blue to red and purple—usually changing with the mood of the storyline. In front of the color-changing sky are rows of dead cornstalks. Then, a raggedy old fence was used to make stairs and create the inside and the outside of the farm.

Every piece of the set lets us know more about these characters and their situation. My favorite part of this design was the left part of the stage outside the door, which was slightly obscured but open enough to hear and experience what was happening. This design team and director did a fantastic job of thinking about what’s seen on stage and how powerful it can be when things are not seen or only seen partially.


To only mention one actor from this ensemble would be a disservice across the board. The acting from this group was highly professional, from any context on the American stage.

For lovers of theater, good drama, and an inspired story, Buried Child at the Costa Mesa Playhouse is a fantastic choice.

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Masterpiece! OCR Recommended! Feb 2-25, 2024. 

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