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A CurtainUp Review
A Lie of the Mind

I know--love. I know what love is. I can never forget. That. Never----Beth,
In White Horse Theater Company's production of Sam Shepard's rarely performed A Lie of the Mind, Jake says, "These things--in my head--lie to me. Everything lies. Everything in me lies." It's an apt metaphor for the recurring themes of lying and truth in Shepard's oeuvre, and this production of the play is especially timely, given theatre legend Joe Chaikin's recent death.

Shepard and Chaikin met in 1964, after Chaikin had founded the Open Theatre, and a long and production theatrical partnership ensued. In 1984, Chaikin's heart failed, and in the open-heart surgery that followed, he had a stroke, leaving him severely aphasic. Aphasia is defined as a language disorder, causing problems in understanding and expressing language. Chaikin eventually recovered enough of his powers of speech to continue directing and working in the theatre, but it took many years.

It's no coincidence that this play was written and first performed in 1985, after Chaikin's stroke. In the play, Beth suffers a severe brain injury which results in aphasia. Her speech rhythms and cadences are remarkably similar to Chaikin's own rhythms. A Lie of the Mind is an exploration of language, of emotion, and of how language can affect both emotions and relationships.

Jake (Rod Schweitzer) is a jealous alcoholic; when he beats his wife Beth (Jessica Baron) to a pulp, he leaves her for dead and takes refuge with his brother, Frankie (Joe MacDougall). Beth's brain is so damaged that at first she doesn't recognize her own brother, Mike (Bill Dobbins). As she slowly recovers at her parents' (Ellen Barry and Ken Trammell) Montana home, Jake seems to be going mad with guilt and grief at his mother's (Sylvia Norman) house; he is so unstable that his sister Sally (Kara Tsiaperas) leaves. Frankie goes to Beth's house to see if she's alive, but is mistaken for a deer by her father and shot through the leg. As he convalesces, Beth mistakes him for Jake, since they both have the same voice. She becomes convinced that she is in love with him -- so much so that when Jake himself finally shows up, she can barely recognize him for who he is.

A Lie of the Mind, like all Shepard plays, explores the the strange American family dynamic, and especially the relationships between brothers. It's also about memory, the loss of memory and the ease with which it can be warped and misinterpreted. Lie is a powerful play, with larger than life characters; if it rambles at times, Shepard can be forgiven for he is one of our greatest living playwrights. Unfortunately, this production does some rambling of its own. A long play to begin with, it's made much longer with clumsy and overly complicated set changes. Both the direction and the acting as a whole are wooden and somewhat hesitant. This hesitance slows down the pace critically. The cast is clearly talented; they need to trust their instincts more, and let go a little.

Despite the acting problems overall, there are a number of commanding individual performances, not least of which is Jessica Baron as Beth; also the parents, Sylvia Norman, Ellen Barry and Ken Trammell (especially Trammell as the archetypal uber-masculine Montana farmer). These actors almost redeem the production's sluggishness --almost. Ultimately, this production doesn't do justice to the script. Shepard's work which is best when simply done, deserves better.

For a review of a London revival of this play go here

Written by Sam Shepard
Directed by Cyndy A. Marion
Featuring Rod Sweitzer, Joe MacDougall, Jessica Baron, Bill Dobbins, Sylvia Norman, Kara Tsiaperas, Ellen Barry and Ken Trammell
Set Design by Niluka Samarasekera
Lighting Design by Heekyung Ann
Costume Design by Debra Siegel
Original Sound by Kevin Paul Giordano
Running time: Three hours and twenty minutes with one intermission
White Horse Theater Company
At The American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, 4th Floor, 212-868-4444
Through September 28
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on September 12th performance

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