Author: Sam Shepard
Directed by Rob West
Why this play now?
Sam Shepard’s work focuses on the breakdown, or re-definition of the American family. His work reminds me of a Douglas Coupland novel called All Families are Psychotic. His families are violent, darkly funny, generally horrible, at times sweet, and all too real. He’s a strange playwright to say you enjoy, but I enjoy him. His work speaks about masculinity in a very compelling way without explicitly being about masculinity. And even though his men generally dominate the story, his women are always intense and far from one-dimensional.
Lie of the Mind revolves around two families dealing with the abuse of a woman and her abuser. The two families imprison the abuser and abused for their own protection and to heal. Beth, has suffered brain damage and her brother is trying to take care of her with some, but not entirely helpful, assistance from their mother and father. Jake’s mother keeps him in his childhood room while his mind tries to sort out killing Beth. In the beginning, Jake believes Beth is dead, and Beth tries to get back to Jake. By the end, Beth believes Jake is dead, and Jake tries to get back to Beth.
The set is constructed in such a way that the two families are each using one-half of the stage and there are occasional moments where it’s as if they can see one another through time and space. I can’t remember if the stage directions specify having them on two separate sides of the stage, and while that worked for me, I was tempted to see it staged in the same space, though you would likely lose some of that poignance of seeing each other through walls, across states.
Beth speaks in a broken childlike simplicity that borders on poetry. The building of the relationship between Beth and everyone else on stage, even the ones that don’t directly interact with her, creates a heartbreaking and far from fulfilling story, which is another thing I love about Shepard. You do not leave his shows with warm fuzzies. The evil do not necessarily get a comeuppance, and even don’t seem evil by the end, though you still might want them murdered. Shepard doesn’t give you what you want. He gives you what would happen with a sort of magical realism sensibility without ever completely broaching magical realism. In short, he makes a compelling and all too necessary piece of the theatre.
Quote from the play featured on the program:
There’s this thing in my head. This thing that the next moment – the moment right after this one will – blow up. Explode with a voice.
What’s happening in the work thematically?
- The failure of memory
- Examining the meaning of “dead to me”
- Shifting definitions of love
- Family imprisonment and the imprisonment of the mind
And so much more.
What moments encapsulate the story?
- Beth calling for her Mom from the hospital room
- The last moment, folding the flag and the lines (paraphrased) “It’s funny the things that come back to you.”
- Beth sorting out love in front of her family and Frankie
- The relationship scene between Jake and Sally trying to remember the promise they’ve made
- Frankie trying to get Beth to put her shirt back on
- Mike helping Beth to walk in the hospital by having her stand on his feet
- Mike’s frustration and realization that his family has already forgotten what Jake did to Beth, or that they’ve simply moved on from it
Pretty much every scene with Beth was heartbreaking and imparted some greater meaning to the piece.
Were there moments of disunity, or areas where the story-telling deviated from the apparent desired direction? (apparent in this case meaning the direction as it appeared to this member of the audience)
I wasn’t a fan of the choice to go to blackout at the act breaks and bring the lights back up as the actors are still going offstage. It made me try to impart some greater wisdom to the choice, and all I could come up with was a Brechtian vibe, but I don’t think it fits. The first time it happened, I thought it was an accident and the second time it happened, I kept trying to put a reason to it instead of focusing on the act that just ended. Because the scene changes were done in character, I couldn’t parse out why they would go off-stage as actors in full light. Perhaps they couldn’t see well enough to get off stage, but they always entered in the dark. However, if this is the only real moment of disunity, that’s awesome.
In terms of the play itself, Shepard had a third act issue. The third act is monologue heavy. Shepard in general, is a monologue heavy playwright and all of them are well-written. However in the third act, everyone has a monologue and that lessened some of the revelation that the third act provides. I’m torn, because I really enjoyed them all, but I do feel that they lost something in being one right after the other. Meg’s monologue to her husband about women and men was one of my favorites. Although, I wanted her to drop Baylor’s socks on the floor and out of his reach, instead of dropping them on his lap.
I’m still trying to figure out how Shepard wrote a play, the main premise of which is domestic violence, and yet, a play which never seemed to address domestic violence. The end is setup so Beth has the opportunity to confront her abuser, and yet, she doesn’t see him. Jake is dead to her. It’s like he’s not there. Mike is the only one who seeks revenge about the beating and recognizes how awful it was, however I couldn’t decide if his anger was out of protectiveness of his sister or something personal within him. In other words, Mike’s vengeance seemed not to be about Beth and what she was going through, but about how Mike felt abused by the situation. I like that I don’t have an answer to it, and that several days later I’m still trying to figure out what the ending meant, and how it made me feel.