Buried Child

Familial Identity in the Works of Sam Shepherd College

The San Gabriel foothills rise like tombstones over the city of Duarte, California, their black silhouettes limned against the setting desert sun. In the valley, it’s warm all year, home to avocado, orange, and walnut groves, grown by an older class and culture of people, now on its way out. It’s the kind of town you stop in lunch on your way to nearby Los Angeles and then promptly forget about. It’s also the landscape that raised Sam Shepard, one of America’s greatest contemporary playwrights. “The California I knew, old rancho California, is gone,” he said of the place where he grew up. “It just doesn't exist, except maybe in little pockets. Totally wiped out now.” This sense of loss pervades his work, as do the complicated family dynamics that often surround it. This is no more evident than in his family trilogy, comprised of Curse of the Starving Class, Buried Child, and True West. In each play of Shepard’s family trilogy, two central male characters jockey explosively for dominance, eventually switching places in their quests. This demonstrates the fluid nature of individual identity in the face of rigid family structures, and the unescapable effects of heredity.

Despite the impressive size of his oeuvre across multiple...

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