Tessa King’s play Buried, which ran as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival in Toronto, opens at a funeral and as Anne tries unsuccessfully to focus on delivering her eulogy, she finds herself instead embroiled in a struggle to get her mother, Jean, back into her coffin. This initial scene nicely subverts the audience’s expectations and roots the entire play in an ambience of black comedy despite the fact that it also grapples with sensitive and emotional subject matter. This is a play that has the ability to move an audience toward both laughter and tears.
rosemary dunsmore and christine brubaker
In a way Buried is a very conventional play. It explores the ideas of memory and how the past haunts each of us in its own subjective way, shaping our future and defining our relationships, especially those within our families. I found the story and the characters in King’s play to be familiar to me; two distant sisters coming together after the death of their mother and an ailing father with Alzheimer’s Disease placed further complications and uncertainty on the sisters’ perceptions of the past, the present and the sanctity of their memories. Despite the fact that I felt like I knew this relationship and I, to some degree, had seen this story enacted before, King subtly wove a mystery into this play, which provided me with enough intrigue to stay invested in this particular story through to the end.
Anne and her sister Rachel are adults who believe, as most of us do, that they understand the dynamics of their family, that they know their parents and that they understand the events and experiences which shaped their own childhoods and the rest of their lives. Yet, in Buried Tessa King highlights the fallacy of “knowing” and the semblance of “truth” as it becomes clear that Anne and Rachel have very different perceptions of the parents who raised them and their own shared past and that they are entirely oblivious to the fact that there are limitations even to one’s own memory, and the secrets hidden away in the past refuse to rest until they are brought into the light.
This play’s success was facilitated by a stellar cast of performers, who brought rich emotions and unique specificity to their roles. Christine Brubaker brought a great intensity to Anne, a woman who chases her tail in the quest to be the perfect daughter for her parents while struggling with feelings of guilt, regret and a strong dose of inadequacy. Rosemary Dunsmore provided much humour as the feisty spirit of Jean, headstrong and persistent despite her propensity to ignite chaos in her daughter’s mind. Ian D. Clark was heartbreaking as Bill, a man who, although somewhat distant with his children, clung to his wife fiercely and continued to search for her in anguish after she was gone. Fiona Highet gave a brilliant performance as the free spirited daughter Rachel who had moved away to pursue her dreams and start a family of her own. Highet gave Rachel this powerful straightforwardness, which made her dynamics with Anne and Bill especially interesting.
In all, while Buried may feel familiar there is a lot in it that can stimulate reflection in both the mind and the heart.