The closing show of Trinity Rep's 50th season is the "A Lie of the Mind" by Sam Shepard which won three awards in 1986. These awards include Drama Desk Award, New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and Outer Critics' Circle Award. Sam Shepard not only wrote but also directed the play off Broadway in 1985. The show is a three act play 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. The two families, one composed of Baylor, Meg, Beth and Mike, the other composed of Lorraine, Sally, Frankie and Jake are connected by the marriage of Jake and Beth, whose beating and subsequent hospitalization at the hands of Jake initiates the beginning of the play. Exploring dysfunction and the nature of love, the play follows Jake as he searches for meaning after Beth, and her family, as they struggle with Beth's brain damage. The play deals with degradation, limitation and loss. Director Ben Mertes obtains stunning performances from each and every one of his performers.
Ben makes his cast delve into their characters. The first and second acts have a lot of theatricality thrown in which at times takes away from the story Shepard is telling. The third act is succinct and delivers the goods the audience has been waiting for. This play probes into the disintegration of the American Dream. Shepard's corrosive vision of the American family and of civilization in decline in his portrayal of these two extremely dysfunctional families. Jake has beaten his wife, Beth senseless and believes he killed her. His brother, Frankie leaves Jake with their iron willed mother Lorraine and sister, Sally. Frankie sneaks back to Beth's family's remote house in Montana to see if she is still alive. Beth is with her stupid and nasty parents Baylor and Meg and her stupid, nasty and protective brother, Mike. Baylor shoots Frankie because he thinks he is a deer and it is deer hunting season. Beth even though she is brain damaged is the only one to realize that Frankie's flesh wound has turned to gangrene. In her deluded state she believes she is going marry him. Sally tries to help Jake but in his deluded state mistakes her for his wife. Janice Duclos plays Jake's strong willed mother, Lorraine who exclaims his shortcomings by saying after all he was dropped on his head as a baby. She is like a mother lioness defending her boy against all odds. Janice is fabulous and commands the stage in this role, running rough shod over one and all.
Timothy Crowe as Baylor and Anne Scurria as Meg are splendid as these two unlikable characters who think they are doing what is right for their daughter. They bully and cajole one another as well as Mike, Beth and Frankie after he is shot. Their constant bickering adds humor to this dark subject matter. Timothy's tirades and Anne's dotty behavior are fantastic. Benjamin Grills captures the brutish behavior of Jake, presenting a bewildered but terrifying figure at the same time. Pretty blonde, Britt Faulkner plays the damaged Beth excellently, capturing the empathy of the audience with her heartfelt portrayal. She has been beaten down but struggles back inch by inch during the course of the play to try to regain what she has lost by this savage beating. Britt is phenomenal in this role and has a bright future in theatre. Her interactions with her fellow performers are terrific to behold.
Becky Gibel is marvelous as Sally, Jake's sister who tries to make him understand she is his sister not his wife. She constantly sits on top of a very heavy suitcase during most of the show and in the third act you realize it is the heavy baggage she has been carrying around with her. Her scene with Janice in the third act is terrific and delivers a secret Sally has been holding in for years. She and Janice keep you on the edge of your seats while you listen to her spilling a secret from their past. The two almost normal characters in the show are marvelously played by Charlie Thurston and Billy Finn. Charlie plays Frankie, making him a more sympathetic character when he tries to explain things to his overbearing mother. He is also topnotch after he gets shot by the crazy family and held captive in their house. Charlie handles the transition in character splendidly. Billy Finn plays the overprotective Mike wonderfully. He is determined to keep his sister safe from Jake and his crazy family. Bill as Mike goes to great lengths to make sure of this finally capturing Jake and punishing him for harming his sister. He delivers a powerful performance. It is the first time I have seen Britt and Billy onstage at Trinity and I look forward to their next shows. So for a look at Sam Shepard's view of the disintegration of American life in the West and a fantastic ending to Trinity's 50th Anniversary season, be sure to catch "A Lie of the Mind" before time runs out.