Las Vegas isn't the only place where big bets are made. By presenting Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind, Brooklyn's Gallery Players gambled on a lengthy, rarely produced modern drama. Their risks were often rewarded with big payoffs. And even when their luck sometimes faltered, the play still offered interesting theater.
In Lie, Jake savagely beats his wife Beth and leaves her for dead, then returns to his childhood home to grieve. Unknown to Jake, the brain-damaged Beth survives and is cared for by her family. The two ailing lovers and their clans mirror each other on the split stage, suggesting a mythical, mystical bond. The two stories gradually meld into one, and the characters have difficulty distinguishing one person from another and discerning the past from the present. Shepard's themes emerge in full force: the duality of personalities, the frustrations of communication, the emotional gulfs that separate individuals. One person sometimes becomes many people; many people sometimes combine to make up one person.
As the short-tempered Jake, Carl Bradley Anderson projected a real aura of frustration and menace. As Jake's brother Frankie, Troy Wharton presented a fine contrast, a brother more rational though equally as baffled of life (a la Shepard's fantastic True West). Denise Roemerman handled the role of a battered woman with an admirable mixture of pain and integrity. Michael Durkin, however, was most comfortable in his part as Beth's father, a man angry with his family though resigned to them. Durkin's relaxation was particularly welcome, for although each of the eight actors performed with skill, at times they seemed a bit unpracticed with each other, as if their exchanges were just a half-beat short of perfect timing.
Yvonne Opffer Conybeare's capable direction was not without a few puzzling choices. Wisely cutting the play to three hours (the original Broadway production ran four), the story lost none of its edginess. Yet some minor details, such as having Jake trot around in tight brief underwear (Shepard's script specifically calls for boxers, and with all the walking about, the author's decision appears sensible rather than prudish), or positioning Jake's mother with her back to the audience as she attempts to feed him, were irksome and distracting, and drew attention away from what was otherwise effective direction.
Bob Malenky, sitting beside the stage and playing blues guitar, was superb. Shepard calls for "music with an American backbone," and Malensky's tunes set the perfect twangy tone to underscore the lyrical language. Priman Lee's shadowy lighting was also expert, accentuating the moody, dreamy realism of the play.
The Gallery Players deserve a double round of applause for this production. Instead of presenting a play-it-safe choice or a dependable old standby, their chance-taking is refreshing and commendable. While not flawless, A Lie of the Mind was nonetheless a quality, seldom-seen work performed by a praiseworthy cast and crew. Indeed, this was a Lie well told.
(Also featuring John Seroff, Karen Sweeney, Stephanie Nasteff and Laura Livingston)
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Copyright 2000 Ken Jaworowski