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A 'Child' Unearthed


It's a little surprising that Los Angeles, which occupies the western fringe of Sam Shepard country, should be so sparse in hosting Shepard's "Buried Child," one of the pivotal plays in his career (it won him a Pulitzer Prize). The Los Angeles Actors' Theatre produced it for a relatively brief run in 1979, San Francisco's A.C.T. brought it to the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara a year later, and that's been it.

South Coast Repertory will resurrect "Buried Child" in a main stage production beginning Tuesday. Sam Weisman directs. Weisman, an actor and director who has worked out of the Matrix Theatre ("Betrayal," "Homesteaders," "Table Settings," "Skirmishes"), says of "Buried Child":

"It's Shepard's quintessential family play, the gutting out of the demons of his past. It's not naturalistic. It's influenced by a moment-to-moment reality, like jazz. It's basically about a son who returns to the Illinois farm of his parents looking for his roots, and discovering it's not what he thought it was.

"The father is really Shepard's father, a weird character. When he saw a production of 'Fool for Love' in Texas, he talked back to the actors on the stage, saying 'That's not the way it was.' In essence, the play is an homage to Pinter's 'The Homecoming.' There's a gut attachment between the two."

Ralph Waite and Nan Martin head the cast of seven.

"Susan Slade was a member of the Actors Studio in the late '50s. I knew her as an acquaintance. She was charismatic, talented, conflicted. She later committed suicide."

Such is director Edward K. Martin's recollection of the playwright who wrote "Ready When You Are, C.B.," which played Broadway in 1964 and has its Los Angeles professional debut Friday at Night Flight Theater in Burbank. Martin was head of the acting program at UCLA before he went to teach at Carnegie Mellon and then headed the acting class at the Wisdom Bridge in Chicago.

"There's a lot of gossip that says this play is about Susan's relationship with Marlon Brando, but I don't believe it's true," Martin said. "The facts are only parallels. We shouldn't forget that this is as light as boulevard comedy, and that it's an actor's play, a comedy about acting that has a romantic obsessive relationship at its center. It really surprises me that it hasn't been done here, since it has so much to say about actors."

Sundays at the Itchey Foot, the Mark Taper Forum's literary cabaret, likes to mount programs that complement the Taper's main stage productions. "Souvenirs" (opening next Sunday) is no exception, playing off Marsha Norman's " 'night, Mother," which deals with a mother and daughter--perhaps the most primal of human relationships.

Certainly Jessica Teich thinks so. Teich, a former Rhodes Scholar who is now the Taper's associate literary manager, has adapted two stories from a work by Jane Anne Phillips called "Black Tickets" for the Itchey Foot program, and has this to say:

"We've done Shakespeare, Capote and Mandelstam, but not works of newer writers. Phillips is 34 and a somewhat reclusive writer who lives near Boston. Her stories are sparse, evocative, even elliptical. Here she describes a world you rarely see. You hear of fathers and sons, sons and lovers, but not mothers and daughters, whose root has its own logic and vocabulary. What we don't see depicted--and I can't understand why--is a bond so close that it's almost telepathic. Mothers know so much about their daughters, and vice versa. And if a woman becomes a wife and mother, when she goes home to her own mother, she's a daughter all over again."

Other openings for the week include: today at noon, "AIDS/U.S.: Portraits in Personal Courage" at the Skylight; tonight, "Picnic" at the Ahmanson; " '20s, '30s, '40s" at Celebration Theatre; Tuesday, "Children of a Lesser God" at La Mirada Civic; Friday, "Parting Shots" at Adam Hill Theater; Murray Mednick's "The Hunter" at Theatre Theater on Cahuenga, and "What Happened to Lilith" at Fifth Estate.

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