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Michael Manuel has taken our stage by storm in several of our recent productions, and today he is talking about his current role as Tilden – the eldest son of the bizarrely familiar family unit in Buried Child. Get his insight as an actor and a prominent character in Sam Shepard’s shockingly raw and fiercely funny play.
Can you tell us a little bit about Buried Child?
It’s about the secrets that families keep from each other. It’s about human behavior and the truths and lies we tell ourselves in order to survive. It’s also funny. Funny because life is tragic and ridiculous – sometimes it’s so tragic and ridiculous that it’s funny.
In recent ANW productions, you’ve played the villain as Iago in Othello and the outcast as the Creature in Frankenstein. How does your role as Tilden in Buried Child compare?
All of the characters were isolated and alone, but each of them manifested the isolation differently. Iago chose his isolation because of his rage, jealousy, and bitterness. The Creature was isolated because society abhorred him. He had no choice in his isolation, all he wanted was to be accepted and loved. Tilden is like a turtle who pokes his head out only when he feels safe. He retreats into isolation and uses it to protect himself because of the trauma he has experienced.
Why is Sam Shepard such a hot commodity right now? What about his work resonates with audiences today?
Part of it might be that it’s the 40th anniversary of Buried Child winning the Pulitzer. But I also think that it resonates today because of the fractured and broken state of our current world. I have this feeling that many of us carry around the idea that we’re alone and that nobody’s family could be as complicated as our own. The truth of it is – we all have complicated stories. Shepard’s plays reflect that complexity.
What most excites you about this production?
Sharing Shepard’s language and poetry. There is a jazz-like quality to his writing; the imagery, the way he strings together thoughts, specific words, and repetition that is then echoed by other characters later in the play.
What should audiences expect from Buried Child?
They should expect to laugh, be disturbed, and marvel at the absurdity of the human experience.