Things at Stake Here - Interview about BURIED CHILD
Playwright Sam Shepard says that the rewritten version
of his play 'Buried Child' is much better than the
original version first staged in 1978 and awarded the
Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year. Shepard
cites the development of the character of Vince as one
of the improvements in the new version. He reveals that
his plan to rewrite his 1972 play 'The Tooth of Crime'
is being spurred by a feeling of incompleteness
regarding the play.
An interview with the playwright by Stephanie Coen
In a 1983 interview, you called Buried Child "verbose
and overblown" and "unnecessarily complicated." Is it
still something of a problem play for you?
No, not any more. I think I solved it. (Laughter.) But
it was due to this production being able to cast a new
light on it - and I guess, too, the amount of time
between when it was originally written and the current
production. It gives you a different perspective.
What changed the most for you?
There were a lot of things that were hanging,
particularly with the character of Vince and his
lostness and dismay at not being recognized. His
predicament became clearer in retrospect. My emphasis
was on the old man, on Dodge.
It's interesting that your focus went from the older
character to the younger.
It's because of the structure of the play. You see the
weaknesses, and one of the weaknesses is that Vince
hadn't been fully explored. For one thing, the old man
was a lot more fun. I could really go with him, but the
kid wasn't so much fun. Now the kid is starting to
become more and more apparent to me.
The revised text makes it clear from very early on that
Tilden is the father of the buried child, something that
is much more mysterious in the original play.
It was always implicated that he was, even in the
original. I didn't want anything in the play to be
gratuitously mysterious. And I felt that certain
questions that were ignited in the play should find -
not resolution, they shouldn't be resolved - but they
should be at least followed through. One of them was
this insinuation that Tilden was the father. And I
thought, yes, of course he is, go with that.
Were you surprised that the Steppenwolf production was
hailed as so funny?
I geared the play towards this humor, because I felt
that the play in our first production was too heavy.
There's a lot of humor in it - based mainly on Dodge's
kind of out-of-the-side-of- the-mouth humor, his
sarcasm, that strange World War II humor - that I wanted
to emphasize. I think the play works because the
audience is allowed into this kind of strange humor in
spite of themselves. They have to laugh at this
character, even though he's killed a child. Otherwise,
For this year's Signature Theatre Company season, you're
rewriting your 1972 play The Tooth of Crime. What is the
impulse for revisiting that play?
Well, I felt again that there was something incomplete
about it. There's a strength to the play, and it doesn't
go where I hoped it would go.
These are not easy plays. Buried Child and Tooth of
Crime were tough plays to write. Other plays are easy to
write, like Curse of the Starving Class, True West -
they just kind of happened. But these plays were
straggles. Not to say that I didn't have fun with them,
but they were not the same breed of animal.
Which of your plays wouldn't you touch?
(Laughter.) I don't think any of them are perfect, but
there are certain ones I wouldn't mess around with,
because I think they are what they are, like Action, for
instance. Probably True West. But again, nothing is
perfect, it's just I have no desire to elaborate on
them. They work.
Is it fair to say that your work suggests that the past
is something you can deny, but you can't escape from?
I suppose you could say that. (Laughter.) It's not the
main deal. The past is a memory. I mean, what is the
past? Of course, as you grow older, the past looms a lot
larger - you don't have as much future. (Laughter.)
As you grow older, are you more conscious of writing for
No, but I am aware of this chain of being, which takes
on a different value than when I was 19, for instance,
when you're trying to deny the chain of being - whatever
came before me doesn't matter. That's cool for a while,
but now it becomes important to me to understand the way
my stuff is interconnected, the way it's a result of the
past. I'm beginning to understand that I'm the direct
product of something that's wild and woolly. They
probably never even really had a notion about where they
were going back then. Nobody could foresee this
Vince says in Buried Child, "His face became his
father's face." Do you see that speech as a signature,
This problem of identity has always interested me. Who
in fact are we? Nobody will say we don't know who we
are, because that seems like an adolescent question -
we've passed beyond existentialism, let's talk about
really important things, like the fucking budget!
(Laughter.) Give me a break! There are things at stake
here - things of the soul and of the heart - and we talk
about the budget! Sorry to get excited. I'm sure that
won't appear in Esquire.
What is this, Esquire?
So do you think we'll just crash and burn?
Something good always comes out of it. I'm not a
doomsday person. No matter what, the creative forces are
powerful. Publicity is on the side of negativity, but it
doesn't mean it's more powerful.
Is there anything about popular culture that's
interesting you now?
Rodeo. There's some good music going on. The commercial
aspect of what's going on deadens everything. It's very
hard to get to something that has heart anymore, because
everything's for sale, and it's for sale real cheap. You
end up with a lot of what my Granddad used to call