by Rita Charleston
In Sam Shepard’s 1979 Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Buried Child,” Dodge and Hallie are barely hanging on to their farmland and sanity while looking after their two wayward grown sons. One day, their grandson Vince arrives with his girlfriend. However, no one seems to recognize him, and confusion abounds. In the play, directed by Nancy Ridgeway and running at Old Academy Players in East Falls through March 15, Shepard takes a macabre look at one American Midwestern family confronting a very dark past.
Making his debut at Old Academy in the role of Dodge, the family patriarch and inveterate alcoholic, is Tim Andersson. With an MFA from Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, Andersson digs deeply into his roles to better understand them. “So by invitation, I attended some A.A. meetings and talked to some folks there who were very forthcoming about what it meant to be an alcoholic. Because of that I came to have a deeper understanding of what it means.”
As to this play, Andersson said he had heard of it because “of course, as a theater student, I was familiar with Shepard’s work. But I had never read ‘Buried Child,’ although I knew he was a successful playwright and eventually an actor. Later, when I heard Old Academy was going to do the play and was auditioning for it, I decided to give it a read, and I could see why the play was so successful. It’s often called an enigmatic play. Parts of it are not easily explainable. It’s a very layered and interesting play. Something that’s very common to Shepard’s plays are secrets, and this one is no different.”
Because it is so well written, Andersson continued, “it was of immediate interest to me and so evocative of images and family. It’s an interesting play right from the start and done in a very entertaining way. So I’m very excited to be a part of it.”
The title itself, according to Andersson, is not to be exposed right now. He said,“I don’t want to be a spoiler. Any audience member who is not familiar with the play will discover its meaning by the end of the play.”
Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Andersson was first bitten by the theater bug in high school, where his drama teacher was very encouraging of him and his talents. “We later moved to Nevada where I finished high school, and then I studied theater at the University of Nevada.”
Prior to 1982, he explained, “I’d never been farther east than Utah. But at the university one of my professors suggested I go to these national professional school auditions to get into a program, adding that if you were accepted, you’d receive a scholarship. I went to the preliminary auditions, got called back, and the school on the top of my list was the Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Brunswick, New Jersey. And that’s how I came to live in Princeton.”
Single and age 64, Andersson insists age does not create any kind of barrier to him. “For years and years, I worked in radio, when a friend of mine told me about the Kelsey Theatre (in Princeton), where they were doing ‘Death of a Salesman.’ I auditioned and found myself getting the role of Willie Loman. At first I was thrilled until I found out there were about a thousand pages of dialogue I had memorize. But it did go well, and eventually I was nominated for a Best Actor award by the theatre itself.
“In fact, not to be too glib, but some people have compared ‘Buried Child’ to ‘Death of a Salesman’ on acid. I think it’s fair to say that a young Shepard took some elements and themes from ‘Death of a Salesman’ and Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ and others, and wove them into his plays. I also think it’s interesting to note that most of the Pulitzer Prize winning plays are about families. But a good play about a family has something valuable to say to us all.”
Andersson hopes to become a full-time actor some day, but for now, when not acting, he does facility security for Goldman Sachs to pay the bills.Old Academy Players is located at 3544 Indian Queen Lane. For information about tickets, call 215-843-1109 or visit oldacademyplayers.org