Matthew Roberts discusses SA production of Buried Child

By Laurie Scarborough

Matthew Dylan Roberts is set to play Protestant minister, Father Dewis, in the upcoming production of Buried Child, opening today at Theatre 228.

The play was first presented in 1978, but was revived last year for West End and Broadway, both notably starring Ed Harris. The critically and publicly acclaimed play has collected many esteemed acknowledgements, including five Tony Award nominations and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an Obie Award for playwright Sam Shepard (who subsequently wrote several other award-winning plays including Curse of the Starving Class, True West, Fool for Love, and A Lie of the Mind).

Considered by many as a part of a series of American family tragedies by Shepard , Buried Child depicts the fragmentation of the American nuclear family through disappointment and disillusionment with the American Dream, the 1970s rural economic slowdown, and the breakdown of traditional family structures and values. Although it is rooted in realism, the play is full of symbolism and dark biting humour, making it both entertaining and poignant.

Multi-Fleur du Cap Award recipient, Chris Weare, directs this production. No stranger to acting himself, he brings an actor’s perspective to directing. Matthew, who has been working with Chris for 25 years says, “He is one of South Africa’s theatre greats. His knowledge of the craft is phenomenal and he is truly an actor’s director.”

Matthew who plays an alcoholic, womanising priest having a not-so-subtle affair with the matriarch of the family under examination says, “It is a modern classic, vital viewing for any avid theatre lover.”

Although set in America, the play has resounding relevance for contemporary South Africa. Dealing with universal themes of personal disappointment and disillusion, hidden secrets and the break down of the family unit makes the subject germane to almost all modern cultures. “Also the casting of Nala Khumalo as the grandson has put a very interesting spin on the play, giving it local relevance,” adds Matthew.

Although Matthew has extensive experience dealing with known and new characters, he says “new works pale in comparison” to digging your teeth into pieces that are so masterfully crafted. “Everything is there [in the text], woven into the fabric: subtext, characters, everything. With Shepherd there is such richness in the dialogue, such acute attention to detail and profound understanding of human nature. Shepherd is a master and returning to such a timeless classic is both a privilege and a pleasure.”

Buried Child runs from today until 15 July. To book tickets, email

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