The Actor's Charitable Theatre follows up its September hit "Cats" with a 180-degree turn to Sam Shepard's Pulitzer-winning drama "Buried Child," the work that launched the playwright to national renown. Fittingly, this weekend's production takes place in the more intimate ACT Studio, unlike "Cats," which sprawled across the Bama Theatre.

Here's some background to bring you up to Shepard speed:

• This production is built on the '96 script, which Shepard touched up from his 1978 original for a Broadway revival.

• "Buried Child" won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Obie Award for playwrighting. Shepard, born Steve Rogers, had already begun a career as an actor and writer back in the mid-'60s, working off-off-Broadway, mostly with Theatre Genesis, and La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club; some of his earliest plays were produced at the latter. His 1969 science-fiction play "The Unseen Hand" influenced Richard O'Brien to write "The Rocky Horror Show."

• Shepard's breakthrough play is a harrowing work about the fragmentation and disillusion of the American dream, and the nuclear family with it, set in the context of dying family farms through the '70s economic doldrums, set in a run-down farmhouse in Illinois.

• The paternal units in "Buried Child" aren't healthy, but then again, no one truly is. Dodge (Harvey Lipscomb), a ranting alcoholic, fades with the failure of his crops and his marriage. His wife, Halie (Donna Luther Wright), dwells on memories of a lost son and is having illicit sex with pretty much everyone except her husband. Protestant minister Father Dewis (Randall Pickering) likewise fails to uphold his given role.

• Their living sons Tilden (Joey Lay) and Bradley (Tony Bordeaux) are both damaged, emotionally and physically, and unlikely or unable to take over the family farm.

• A possible new beginning arrives with grandson Vince (Joshua Deck), though none of the family recognize or recall him. He's joined by girlfriend Shelly (Lauren Norris), who's rightfully appalled at the reunion, and works to uncover dark family secrets.

• In case it wasn't clear from the material, The ACT notes "Buried Child" is intended for mature audiences.

• Director for The ACT production, Benji Stockston, said in a release: “It is fun to do the recognizable, well-known plays or musicals that we feel more comfortable with, but I think it is important to branch out and bring different plays and works to the stage as well, and that’s what we are doing with 'Buried Child.' ”

• "Buried Child" will be The ACT's entry in the Alabama Conference of Theatre, Nov. 1-3, on the campus of Shelton State Community College, hosted by Theatre Tuscaloosa. Last year’s ACT entry, "Of Mice and Men," won six awards at the conference including best show, fight choreography, director and scenic design, and outstanding actor.

• Performances will be 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday, all in The ACT Studio at 2250 Ninth Ave., Northport. Tickets are $20 general, and $18 for seniors and students. For more, call 462-7947 or see www.theactonline.com.