Sam Shepard's Buried Child Comes Home to the Magic Theatre

Categories: Interview, Theater
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Photo: Jennifer Reiley
Vince's (Patrick Alparone - in air) homecoming is not what he hoped for in Sam Shepard's Buried Child. Also pictured are Bradley (Patrick Kelly Jones - on couch) and Dodge (Rod Gnapp - foreground).
Loretta Greco calls the Magic Theatre, where she is artistic director, "the house that Sam built," referring to Sam Shepard, who she considers America's greatest living playwright - possible the greatest of all time. So opening the season with Buried Child, Shepard's Pulitzer-Prize-winning play that premiered at the Magic in 1978 when Shepard was playwright in residence there, has her so excited her feet might not actually be touching the ground. When Greco first saw the play, the production that didn't capture her imagination. Then she read it, and her opinion changed dramatically.

"It so shook me to my core about the promise of the American dream and the promise of the American family. I thought it was kind of Greek in its size and mythology." Greco said. "Its poetry is so evocative, and I don't mean that in a precious way because it's hilarious too. And then the fact that at its core it's dealing with two cultural taboos- infanticide and incest. I love the Greeks, and I just thought, 'Holy shit.'"

While at the Magic, Shepard had an extremely productive period, writing Fool for Love, True West, Tongues, and Curse of the Starving Class, along with Buried Child. Greco thinks John Lion, the founder of the Magic, contributed to that by understanding the importance of writers having space to do their work.

"John had this visionary notion of giving writers a home," she said. "John was the first one to say that if you tell a writer that we believe in you and we want you to make a canon that the writer would write. It's not an accident that being here engendered some of Sam's greatest work, Buried Child being perhaps the greatest."

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Photo:Jennifer Reiley
Rod Gnapp as Dodge in"Buried Child" at the Magic Theatre

The revival of Buried Child is part of a five-year celebration, "Sheparding America." Shepard turns 70 in November and along with the Magic, other theaters including Word for Word, Intersection for the Arts/Campo Santo, Crowded Fire, and ACT will have productions and festivities to honor him and his work.

"It's been my dream to have Sam come back home," Greco said. "I want to celebrate an unparalleled canon and I didn't want to do it without him. Last fall, we started a conversation about the plays I'm interested in reimagining, and I want to make new work with him. He's moving into his sixth decade of writing, and he's still unbelievably prolific and productive."

Greco wanted to direct Buried Child in grad school -- but her teachers thought it was too difficult and gave her Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros instead. She sees Buried Child as the quintessential Magic play, so directing it now is a joy, she says -- especially with these actors.

"It's a rock and roll cast of local Bay Area gems," Greco said. "Rod Gnapp, Patrick Alparone, and James Wagner are three men that I've worked with repeatedly at the Magic, so to have them as the three generations of men in this play is pretty thrilling."

Buried Child opens Sept. 17 and runs through Oct. 6 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$60.

Loretta Greco talks about the Magic Theatre's 2013-2014 season:

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