According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Lie of the Mind

A critique on all things blind (love, faith, patriotism), A Lie of the Mind doles out the rose colored specs to a whole U.S.A. of dysfunctional families. Be warned, though: the glass is sharp as Shepard's tongue and Sammy is in no mood for pink.

Pictured from left to right: Jeff Willis as Frankie, Laura Schwenninger as Beth and Todd d'Amour as Jake.

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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

What with Passover just behind us and Easter around the corner, The Manhattan’s Theater Source’s production of A Lie of the Mind couldn’t have come at a better time. Call it sour grapes or bitter herbs, but watching Sam Shepard’s characters rip each other apart in the name of brotherly love made me mighty glad I couldn’t make it home for the holidays this Spring.

A Lie of the Mind is a feast of multi-family dysfunction: Jake and Beth are husband and wife, though he nearly beats her to death roughly five minutes before the play begins. As if murderous matrimony wasn’t enough to crush my Donna Reid dreams, Jake and Beth each have their own entirely delusional and abusive families. In Jake’s case, the problem is an intense case of sibling rivalry with a side of philandering papa. In Sally’s, it’s a bit more complicated: the father, Baylor is both dependent upon and deeply resentful of the mother, Meg. Their son, Mike, spends his time crying out for their attention, a large man stunted by an adolescent’s angst, eventually physically torturing his brother-in-law to get noticed.

There's no place like home.

The Manhattan Theater Source’s staging is clean and uncluttered. A not-for-profit arts organization, the Source puts the focus on the individual performances, not the environment, and, as a result, ups the ante on its cast. We have very few visual cues to give us setting and tone – the burden falls on the eight actors to not only keep our interest, but to inform our intellect. Thankfully, under Daryl Boling’s direction, they are up to the task.

As Jake, Todd d’Amour is a quivering, fascinating, and utterly believable tangle of a man. Right from the first scene, as Jake snaps in panic and beats the wall with a pay phone, we know he is as much animal as human – not simply in his violence, but in his vulnerabilities as well. Sally, Jake’s sister, repeatedly compares him to a wild creature, a hurt dog baring his teeth, finding ferocity in his fear. D’Amour captures this bark/bite duality without overdoing it, and, through resonating deeply with the audience, immensely complicates Shepard’s script; in flickers of Jake’s frailty, we end up disturbingly sympathetic with the abuser, ourselves falling victim to the delusion that saturates A Lie of the Mind’s world.

Laura Schwenninger also gives a complex and challenging performance as Beth. The first time we meet Beth, she’s mentally disabled – her brain damage, we learn, caused by Jake’s beating. Schwenninger lends Beth a sturdiness, a sense of self and purpose one wouldn’t expect in a victim. Schwenninger has a hard job before her; Beth is a woman who just can’t get her husband out of her head, no matter how badly he love beats her brains out. Shepard doesn’t make it easy, but Schwenninger rises to the challenge, able to convey infinite longing in one look of restraint.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is not nearly as on point as D’Amour and Schwenninger. There’s little interaction – it’s rare to see the actors even look at one another. At times, it feels as though the supporting cast is stalling, repeating their lines with the same exact intonation, until either D’Amour or Schwenninger enters and pulls the action forward again. Shepard gives his actors very clear recognitions and reversals in the script – but it seems as though this cast often does all it can to ignore these cues and idle until a scene change frees them from their stasis. The dialogue itself to deft enough to minimize this problem, though, and even the least responsive cast members have their share of powerful scenes over the course of the production.

Backed by strong leads and a respected playwright, The Source’s A Lie of the Mind does well for itself. Still, Shepard’s play is fundamentally disturbing, and while this production of the show engages its audience, don’t expect to leave the theater feeling elated. The name of the game here is metaphor, and the two corrupt families we watch struggle for three hours may as well be part of one big Brady household called America. A Lie of the Mind, first produced at the Promenade Theater in 1985, is above all else a sharply critical play. Even though there’s plenty of hunting (and even a not-so-friendly misfire), Daddy Cheney wouldn’t appreciate this show one bit, I can tell you that much.

Patriotism, in this violent, unpleasant world, is handled with the same isolated distrust as love – in Shepard’s creation, both abstracts are possible only through intense and deliberate oversight. A Lie of the Mind creates an environment where the defect is the norm, and selective hearing is a means of survival. Shepard’s ode to the American West chronicles a whole universe of failure. It’s quite a feat, then, that, with A Lie of the Mind, The Source has put on a success.

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Manhattan Theater Source at Washington Square Park (177 MacDougal, between Waverly Place and West 8th Street)
Tickets (, 212.352.3101): $18.00
Performances: April 4th through April 28th, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm.

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