A surly old man wastes away on the couch. His brain-damaged son wanders in and out of the house carrying mysterious bundles of produce. Another son, a scary, one-legged creep, hobbles around menacingly. The mother bemoans her family’s moral backsliding while primping for an illicit rendezvous with the local minister.

This is the clan of degenerates featured in Sam Shepard’s dark, surreal and often hilarious Buried Child. The play, which won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, comes from an era that saw the emergence of the “Rust Belt” and the decline of family farming, though as an allegory for American decay, it could have been written yesterday.

We’re told that the recent economic crisis is over, but the nation is still plagued by unemployment, not to mention epidemics of obesity and meth. In this climate, San Jose Stage Company‘s revival of Buried Child seems rather timely.

The sense of decay that figures so prominently in Shepard’s drama is heightened by the Stage’s imaginative design for the rural farmhouse where the action takes place. The home is a mere shell of its former self, as becomes clear when long-lost relative Vince (Harold Pierce) and his girlfriend Shelly (Lyndsy Kail) stop by. Expecting to walk into a Norman Rockwell painting, the two instead find something slightly more akin to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The encounter, partly based on a visit Shepard paid to his family with then-girlfriend Patti Smith, leads to a series of bizarre and maddening exchanges and finally, to the truth behind the family’s metamorphosis from All-American folks to backwoods barbarians.

Randall King is fantastic as Dodge, the cynical, decrepit patriarch who spends his time berating other characters in between bouts of hacking and wheezing—amazingly vivid for someone who hardly budges from his spot in front of the TV. Judith Miller provides a sort of inverse mirror image as Dodge’s more mobile and pretentious wife. Michael Navarra is sadly pathetic as Dodge’s son, Tilden, while Stephen F. Massott is frightening as the sinister Bradley.

Placing Shepard’s excellent material in such capable hands results in a production that is both captivating and chilling. It also deftly mixes the horror with humor, mostly derived from the sheer strangeness of the situations. There are times when you might not be sure if you’re supposed to laugh, but it’s all right—go ahead and laugh.

Buried Child
Runs through March 11; $20-$45
The Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose