Hot on the heels of their successful production of Speech and Debate, Defibrillator Theatre brings Sam Shepard’s A Lie of The Mind to The Southwark Playhouse, under the direction of James Hillier. A shorter version than the original off-Broadway production, Shepard’s exploration of family life, and more specifically the weight that the past can put upon relationships, is played out by a strong cast.
The storyline is somewhat abstract, and at times downright bewildering. Promising actress, Beth, has been severely beaten by her husband Jake, who believes her to be dead. Beth is being cared for by her dysfunctional family while Jake has slipped into a spiral of despair and is being cared for by his, equally dysfunctional, mother and sister. Jake’s brother, Frankie, sets off to Montana to find out if Beth has actually been killed, but after being mistaken for a deer, is shot by her father, Baylor. Jake, with the help of his sister, manages to escape his overbearing mother to make the trip himself – wrapped in an American flag.
The whole play is wrapped in Americana, plaid shirts are the order of the day and between scenes, composer and musician, James Marples plucks at the guitar and serenades the audience with music reminiscent of the American dustbowl; Shepard was specific about the use of music when he wrote the play.
Rebecca Brower’s set looks good and manages to channel the coldness of the Montana winter, the story alternates between the two families and the staging compliments this with the Montana cabin slightly raised at the rear of the stage.
There are some strong performances, in particular from Michael Fox as Frankie. Making a wonderful double act are Nancy Crane as Meg, and John Stahl as Baylor, and the most engaging scenes are when they are on stage together.
Robert Lonsdale gives the most passionate and believable performance of the group, he takes the raw emotion of the character and moulds it to his own frame. In one of the final scenes you can see him shake with the anger and frustration his character is inevitably feeling.
A Lie of The Mind has probably aged a little since it was first staged more than thirty years ago, and the male/female dynamic definitely feels outdated, but in terms of production it looks and feels right. Some strong performances and good attention to detail in the staging makes this an interesting play worth seeing.
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