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Insiders Recap: Buried Child

Pictured: Angela Gulner and Geoff Elliott. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

By A Noise Within
November 22, 2019

Written by Rebecca Wilson

For our final Insiders event of 2019, we were honored and excited to have Benjamin Weiss, of USC, as our speaker, and Angela Gulner, our very own Shelly, as our guest actor. The evening began as we shuffled in from the rain to the cozy confines of the conference room. Warming our bellies with cookies and wine, we first went around the room to introduce ourselves, and were very pleased to see several new faces joining us, including our very own Development Director, Patti. With the soft pitter patter of rain as our evening’s soundtrack, we dove straight in to a challenging and rewarding conversation about Buried Child.

Ben started off by explaining his background as a family violence scholar, and how that framed his empirical rather than symbolic view of the play. To give us a similar framework, we went through the evolution of the American family, focusing on how the myth and construct of “the family” has developed and changed over the course of our history. What kind of myth is “the family?” How can we approach it as a temporal myth, a racial myth, and a violent myth? These evocative questions lead the first portion of our evenings discussion as we dissected the family within Buried Child, and how they both adhere to and resist these tropes. We also pondered the question: What would Sam Shepard’s family unit look like if it was not white? How would that change the dynamics within Buried Child, and what varying complications would the family face?

The conversation naturally shifted then to talking about how we as readers, patrons, and actors can approach the play from varying angles. For many of us, we viewed this play as an allegory rather than a literal representation of a family. For others, there was a very literal sense of danger and realism within these characters. Angela, speaking to her point of view playing Shelly, was able to connect our differing thoughts by noting that for her, the beauty and frustration of this play is how you can weave yourself into a lot of different explanations for everything that goes on. Everyone comes away from this play with a unique perspective – and that’s part of the magnificence of live theatre in general – we all get to empathize with the part of the story we relate to the most. For many of us, this empathy came from Shelly. Many of us saw ourselves in her, because just like the audience, she was also the outsider looking in at the chaos of this dysfunctional family. Some of us then snickered as we talked about how we saw our own families within this absurdist world.

Our evening concluded with a chuckle as we discussed and appreciated the concept of true human connection. We talked about “community” as a concept, and how it differs from  isolation – not only in connection to Buried Child, but also in our own lives and in our social-media driven world. We reflected how much we appreciate opportunities like these Insiders events, to be able to come together face to face to have deep and meaningful discussions.

Insiders may be over for 2019, but we’ve got a great season coming up in 2020! Email Rebecca Wilson at to sign up for an Insiders session in the spring!  

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