Actor Khalil Kain, known for character roles in films and as Darnell Wilkes on the TV series Girlfriends, made his directing debut recently with an Equity LORT/LOA production of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child. The show runs through August 3, Aaron Davis Hall, at Harlem’s City College campus.
A racially mixed cast interpreted Shepard’s 1979 Pulitzer prize-winning play about a once prosperous but now dysfunctional Midwestern farm family. The play’s deep, dark secrets reveal incest, murder and multiple personality disorders. When grandson Vince makes a surprise visit with his girlfriend, Shelly, their presence sets off a series of revelations. A haunted house springs to life with Shelly, Vince and his grandpa, Dodge, who does not recognize him. You wonder what’s going to happen next. The ending may knock your socks off!
At opening night, by intermission some audience members were clearly stunned. It was a gutsy move by CUNY to bring serious drama back to Harlem. The neglected but still fabulous theater on Off-Broadway is alive again. Most of the people in attendance were full of praise: “It’s great to be back inside Aaron Davis Hall. I’m loving it. That Halie is a mess. Great performances all! You can tell they were pros. Memorable acting, staging and directing,” said a Brooklyn theater enthusiast.
Actually, it was a chilling production underscored by lightening, thunder and the sound of rain. Studio B’s intimate setting was a perfect place for the dilapidated Illinois farmhouse. “Tonight’s production was Gothic, spooky, bipolar yet funnier than I expected. They are speaking the same language but no one hears what they are saying,” said a Sam Shepard enthusiast and downtown resident. “I was totally taken in and afraid for Shelly. I would not have stayed in that house with grandpa (Dodge) and his crazy sons (Tilden, and Bradley). As soon as boyfriend left to buy whiskey, I would have been out of there,” said a visiting Broadway dancer.
“This is the type of play that continues to reveal itself over time. One of the reasons why I enjoy it so much,” said Kain, who said he had never seen the play until he directed this production. “I loved it simply from reading it.”
Several reviewers have called Shepard’s masterpiece a testimony to the fact that you can’t go home again. But Kain disagrees. He believes that we should all go home again.
“I think this play is more about the issues that follow you around and can conceivably block you once you’re out in the world. Issues start at home with family. The only way to be free is to deal with those issues head on. Clearly. Honestly. You have to come home to do that. Look the beast right in the eyes. Then you can grow,” said Kain.
The cast is a mixture of veteran theater professionals and emerging talent. “Respect for the playwright’s work is always paramount,” Kain said. He said the choice to cast Black actors in the grandson and girlfriend roles, in this traditionally White play, was not haphazard.
“If I were to cast Black actors in Halie’s or the minister’s (Father Dewis) roles, the whole story would spin on a different axis. Allowing the family to represent America as a whole, their problems and idiosyncrasies can allow individual audience members to go on their own personal ride,” he said. But, as a person of color, Kain said his vision was clear that the Black characters had to be Vince and Shelly. “Vince represented the child that was not recognized and the witness that doesn’t belong. The girlfriend was the passenger along for the ride. Yet, she held the pivotal role.”
The cast includes: Robert Boardman, as Dodge; Teresa Anne Volgenau, as Halie; Eric Gravez, as Tilden; Stephen Macari, as Bradley; Teniece Divya Johnson, as Shelly; Leroy Smith Graham, as Vince, and Edwin Matos, Jr., as Father Dewis. Set design is by Arnold Bueso. Lighting design is by Brian Aldous. Costume design is by Mary Myers. The production also includes: Stage Manager, Reginald L. Wilson; Assistant Stage Manager, Stephanie Peralta; Assistant to the Director, Brandon Baskin; Hair & Makeup, Brandalyn Fulton; and Production Assistant, Michael Aponte; Khalil Kain, director.
Tickets are $25 general admission; $10 seniors and students (with ID). Performances run through August 3 on the following schedule: 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays. Call the box office (212) 650-6900. For online tickets go to: www.adhatccny.org. Aaron Davis Hall is located at 135th Street and Convent Avenue, on the City College of New York campus. Subways are #1 to 137th Street; C to 135th Street, or A or D to 145th Street. Free parking is available in the South Campus Parking Lot (enter at 133rd Street and Convent Ave).