note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
Trinity Rep’s current production of Sam Shepard’s 1985 “A Lie of the Mind” is a rich, vibrant effort which presents a family meltdown in vibrant detail thanks to the fine acting and directing. It shimmers with detail and depth, full of hilarity and immensely disturbing moments. Although one of the characters suffers from brain damage, the others do not seem far behind in their level of mental disturbance and disruption. Some critics consider it the finale of the quintet of plays which includes Shepard's Family Trilogy: “Curse of the Starving Class” (1976), “Buried Child” (1979), and “True West”(1980), plus “Fool for Love” (1983).
Directed by Brian Mertes, the eight member cast is always on target, full of nuances and vivid portrayals. Set in the gritty American West, the story alternates between two families after a severe incident of spousal abuse leaves all their lives altered until the final collision at an isolated cabin. Shepard is here excavating the profound ambivalence of kinship. Home is where they have to take you in; it is also where they can suck any sense of autonomous self right out of you. While “Buried Child” is more Gothic, this play creeps up on you with under the guise of homey trappings.
It all revolves around husband and wife Jake (Benjamin Grills) and Beth (Britt Faulkner). Jake has beaten Beth so badly that he thinks she is dead. She is not dead but seriously injured. Both retreat to their respective families. For Jake it means returning to his widowed mother Lorraine (Janice Duclos), his brother Frankie (Charlie Thurston) and his sister Sally (Rebecca Gibel) in California. For Beth is means return home in rural Montana, to her mother Meg (Anne Scurria), her father Baylor (Timothy Crowe) and her brother Mike (Billy Finn), who is determined to avenge his sister.
Benjamin Grills is wonderful as Jake, a man beset by guilt and self doubt after battering his wife severely, convinced that she is dead, refusing to hear anything to the contrary. He vacillates between the manic and with withdrawn, in often equal doses. He is tormented and struggling for personal liberation in light of his actions. Grills deftly captures those twisting, turning shifts in personality with daring and conviction. It is a powerful performance.
Britt Faulkner is Beth, at once dazed and confused by her beating, her mind wanders, vacillates back and forth between reality and her own very personal world. She struggles with words, trying to say exactly what she means and battles heartily against the damage done to her mind by the beating. She is confused, often mixing what happened with what is happening to her. Faulkner is excellent in the role, full of finesse as she aptly shows the confusion and terror Beth experiences. She shows the struggle with conviction and energy, delivering a vivid and vibrant performance.
Charlie Thurston is Frankie, a man disturbed by his brother’s violence, doubting that his sister-in-law is really dead, determined to find out the truth no matter what, no matter the resistance he encounters from his brother who wants to leave things alone a eh confronts his guilt. Thurston is sincere and colorful in the role. He delivers a passionate and honest performance that is often riveting.
Billy Finn is Mike, Beth’s brother with a relentless desire to seek justice for his severely injured sister. His sense of justice overwhelms any common sense he might have ever had and propels him into a dark world of obsession and dark desire for revenge, not justice. Finn is gripping in the role, full of admirable touches along with way, always on target and passionate, always convincing.
Timothy Crowe is Baylor, a gruff, outspoken man who hunts deer even though he dislikes venison. He has little room for either tolerance or acceptance and is very demanding, if not mean spirited. He treats everyone as though they are beneath him and he has little patience with them or their antics. Crowe is remarkable as Baylor, full of feisty bluntness and merciless to a fault. It is an imposing performance.
Anne Scurria is Meg, mother to Beth and Mike, wife to Baylor. She is a bit a loss with life, not really present most of the time but with occasional glimpses into what is going on around her. She is dismayed by what has happened to her daughter and her family and struggles to make things as right as she can. The odds are against her. Scurria is convincing and candid in the role. It is a vivid and earnest performance, full of energy and conviction.
Janice Duclos is Lorraine, a widow, who came to despise her late husband, who lives more in her idea of the family than the actual family. She is fiercely loyal to her children, particularly her son Jake. She coddles him and obsesses over him wants to keep him a prisoner in her home to protect him. Duclos is spellbinding in the role, a taut and haunting portrayal that is vigorous and unyielding.
Rebecca Gibel is Sally, Jake and Frankie’s sister. She is at a loss for what has happened to her family, yet not surprised because of what happened to her when she took a trip with brother Jake down to Mexico. She is at odds with her feelings, both for and against her brother. The conflict is continual and painful for her. Gibel delivers a frank and vibrant performance throughout.
The music written and performed by Phillip Roebuck is fresh and lyrical, a nice additional touch to the production.
Director Brian Mertes keeps a keen ear on Shepard’s dialogue and keeps his actors on track with some imaginative nd effective staging.
The Eugene Lee set is sparse and haunting. The back wall is loaded with a wall of fans and a single door. The rest is open with wide opens spaces. Then the furniture in lies in front for both cabins, along with a tub embedded into the floor with water. It creates a powerful image.
The result of all this is gripping and relentless theater, with a chest full of memories and personal myths, at once relentless and unforgiving, yet still somehow achieving a kind of strange peace.
It continues until June 29 at the Dowling Theater. Call 401-351-4242 or online at online at: http://www.trinityrep.com