Sam Shepard's three-act play, "Buried Child," lives down to its title. The production at Arena's Kreeger, directed by Gilbert Moses, is not for the faint of heart.

All about a family that harbors a horrifying secret, it's emotional Grand Guignol only slightly leavened by humor. It was a bleak day in 1979 when this work won the Pulitzer Prize.

Shepard's cursed family, on a decayed and ghostly farm, live like bugs on flat, bleached surfaces as wide and dead as the desert. Tony Straiges' set -- with rusting, rotting farm equipment outside a white frame house -- works well as a chamber of horrors, where family members bleed one another dry.

They include Dodge, a poisonously bitter and sick old man played to the death by Stanley Anderson; Dodge's mean, mad wife, the hallucinatory Halie, played for keeps by Halo Wines; their halfwitted middle-aged son, Tilden, with Kevin Tighe evoking Lenny from "Of Mice and Men"; and their other, gimpy son, Bradley -- creepily done by Christopher McHale -- who once, as Mom informs us, accidentally "lopped off his leg with a chainsaw."

At her instigation, Bradley takes an electric razor to the dozing Dodge's hoary head; Tilden continually appears with armfuls of stolen vegetables; and Dodge, when not asleep on his ratty sofa, wheezes and nips at contraband whiskey. Such are the laughs Shepard gives us.

Into this black hole venture Dodge's grandson and his girlfriend. As played by Christina Moore, she's the only character with any sanity or gentleness. The visit, it develops, is ill-advised.

Another visitor, a fatuous minister, says, "I just came in for some tea. I had no idea there was any trouble." He might be speaking for some in the audience, who would prefer anything to this ugly business. BURIED CHILD -- At the Kreeger through May 29.