Actor Khalil Kain, who is known for edgy character roles on film and for the TV series “Girlfriends,” will make his stage directing debut with Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child,” to be presented by Aaron Davis Hall as an Equity LORT/LOA production from July 11 to August 3. The production uses a multi-racial cast to reinterpret the underlying symbols of Shepard’s landmark play, in which the misfortunes of a Midwestern farming family reveal both the demise and endurance of the American Dream.
“Buried Child” rocketed Sam Shepard into the leading cohort of American playwrights when it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, the first ever for an Off-Broadway production. The play had been commissioned by New York’s Theater for the New City. After an exploratory production in San Francisco’s Magic Theater, it opened at Theater for the New City with a New York cast in October 1978. The production moved Off-Broadway to the Theatre De Lys (now the Lucille Lortel Theater) and received the Pulitzer Prize. Since the late 1960’s, Shepard had been regard as New York’s leading counter-culture playwright; this raised him to national fame and attention. A Steppenwolf production of the play was presented on Broadway in 1996.
The play is a macabre family drama depicting a once-prosperous Illinois farming family with a dark, terrible secret. Years ago Tilden, the eldest son of Dodge and Halie, committed incest with his mother. She gave birth to a baby boy, which Dodge drowned and buried in the field behind their farmhouse. Now the family is crippled: Dodge is drinking himself to death; Tilden is a psychic cripple; his brother, Bradley, is physically maimed; another brother has died while in military service and the mother, Halie, is sleeping with the local minister. Into this morass appears Vince, the prodigal son of Tilden, with his girlfriend, Shelly. Initially, he is not recognized and she is ignored; ultimately, their presence ignites a sort of exorcism in which the revelation of the family’s crimes guarantees its survival and its continuity.
Director Khalil Kain insists that “Buried Child” is not a story for White America, but for America in general because so many of the buried secrets in American families are related to race. “Shepard placed the play in the farmlands of an Illinois white family, but that doesn’t mean it’s a white story. It’s an American story,” he says. In this production, Vince and Shelly are cast with black actors, whose homecoming will be made all the more poignant by their “otherness.”
Kain explains, “Fractured families are very American and one of the issues buried in our collective backyard is race. Making Vincent and Shelly people of color brings that home. The corpse buried in the back yard represents all the secrets and crimes that our country was built over. If you have rotten soil, how do you build on it?” He adds, “Shepard doesn’t offer a solution, but he wants us to confront the problem. Until we do that, we are stuck. Everything will be gnawing at us–everything we have been or should be guilty about. Shepard is saying, until we unearth the buried treasures and deal with them, we won’t be able to move on.” The process of working on the play is rich, he says, with journeys and catharses.
Khalil Kain is a well-known character actor who built a varied and substantial resume from the early ’90s onward with a dazzling combination of films and television series. He debuted as Raheem in director Ernest Dickerson’s urban crime drama “Juice” and quickly broke the mold of roles traditionally offered to young African-American males by branching off into unusual and variegated arenas. He played Private Roosevelt Hobbs in the Army comedy “Renaissance Man” (1994), directed by Penny Marshall and starring Danny DeVito, then made guest appearances in sitcoms “Suddenly Susan” and “Friends.” He played porno star Venus in Dan Ireland’s romantic triangle-themed erotic dramedy, “The Velocity of Gary” (1998), then returned to unconventional urban material opposite rapper Snoop Dogg in Ernest Dickerson’s gruesome haunted-house movie “Bones” (2001). He played Gene in Dave Barry’s mockumentary “Complete Guide to Guys” (2005), headlined by columnist Barry, actor John Cleese and footballer Dan Marino. He played Darnell Wilkes in seasons 2 to 8 of the sitcom “Girlfriends,” which was broadcast on UPN and its successor network, The CW. For Showtime, he played Tiger Woods in “The Tiger Woods Story” and the title role in “Zooman,” an adaptation of the Charles Fuller play “Zooman and the Sign.” On stage, his roles have included Citizen Barlow in “Gem of the Ocean” by August Wilson at Seattle Rep.
Kain is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Lower East Side and attended PS 140, Hunter College High School and Professional Children’s School. Initially a New York dancer, he was uprooted in his late teens and lived with his grandmother in Sacramento. Returning to New York to study film at NYU’s Tisch School, he was drawn into acting before graduating and was launched into stardom by the success of “Juice.”
“Buried Child” will be performed by Robert Boardman as Dodge, Teresa Anne Volgenau as Halie, Eric Gravez as Tilden, Jeffrey Brewer as Bradley, Tenice 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.
Tickets are $25 general admission; $10 seniors and students (with ID). Performances are July 11 to August 3 on the following schedule: Thursdays and Fridays at 7:00 PM, Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM. The box office number is (212) 650-6900 and tickets can be purchased online at www.adhatccny.org. Aaron Davis Hall is located at 135th Street and Convent Avenue, on the campus of City College of New York. Subways are #1 to 137th Street; C train to 135th Street or A, D to 145th Street. Free parking is available in the South Campus Parking Lot (enter at 133rd Street and Convent Ave.).