Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

A Lie of the Mind
Theatre Pro Rata

Also see Arty's reviews of Things of Dry Hours and Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella

Gabriel Murphy and Amy Pirkl
A Lie of the Mind, Sam Shepard's 1985 play, is being given a riveting production by Theatre Pro Rata. The play is an amalgamation of dark comedy, drama of dysfunction, and mystery. Shepard's brand of mystery is not the whodunit variety, but the why-did-it. He makes it clear enough who has done what; the mystery is why in the world they did. Slowly, he reveals mismatched expectations, buried memories, missed cues, delusions or secrets that cross and short out, like bare electric wires. The result may be an emotional black-out, a roaring blaze or, as it turns out in A Lie of the Mind, both.

The play opens with a jolt, with Jake screaming into a pay phone (a marker that sets the play in the past), banging the receiver against the wall in anguish. His brother Frankie, on the other end of the line, tries to piece together what has happened. Jake is positioned deep in the back of the stage and Frankie at the very front, accentuating Jake's isolation and the distance between them. Bit by bit Frankie discerns that Jake has beaten his wife Beth.

Jake is certain he actually has killed Beth but, having fled the scene, has no proof, and Frankie has been through this scenario with Jake before. They meet at a nondescript motel, soon joined by their sister Sally and mother Lorraine, where they find Jake in a psychotic state. Lorraine believes that if he returns to their Oklahoma home she can protect him from the world and from himself. Sally is fearful of Jake and threatens that if he is brought home, she will leave. Frankie is determined to find out if Beth truly is dead, and heads off to find her.

We soon learn that Beth is not dead, but in a hospital recovering from the severe beating. She suffered brain damage, perhaps irreversible. Her brother Mike is there, protective and encouraging, but is soon revealed to be a control freak interested in his own ends rather than understanding Beth's desires. Their parents, Baylor and Meg, arrive. Baylor is a powder keg of aggression. Meg is an optimist, who sees every cracked glass as half-full, a trait which exacerbates Baylor's temper. They bring Beth back to recover at their remote home in Montana, which is where Frankie finds her.

Events unravel in ever more peculiar ways, as we turn back and forth between the two families. The flat Oklahoma plains offer no resistance to prevent Jake's family from ricocheting apart, in spite of Lorraine's insistence that Jake live out his life in his childhood bedroom, nourished by his old favorite, cream of broccoli soup. Recalling the father who left them years before only reinforces in Jake the inevitability of leaving. Frankie and Sally, each in their own way, pursue truth, but find the truth is a moving target that can never be tagged.

In contrast, no one seems capable of leaving Beth's Montana home. Both the forces of nature and the psychic cliffs encircling their minds hold them in place. Mike sees everything in terms of control and vengeance, Meg seeks quiet and calm no matter what upheaval is upon her, and Baylor's yearning is to hunt—not for want of the meat, but because hunting season ordains that men must hunt. Or perhaps it a ploy to avoid his family. Beth sees in Frankie a softer version of Jake, and the two blur together in her mind. No one is prepared to take responsibility, nor do they see the real danger any of the others face, as they are caught up in their own position at the center of the universe.

These eight characters, a large number for a Sam Shepard play, could easily be exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness, but director Carin Bratlie Wethern reins them in just enough to keep their humanity in view, enabling us to accept the unfolding story. Wethern's clear-eyed focus treats the most outrageous events as if they were as natural as the falling snow.

Amy Pirkl is especially affecting as Beth, struggling to understand how she feels in light of what has happened to her, no longer able to filter the thoughts her addled mind struggles to express, and plagued by fear of further loss of autonomy and control. Nate Cheeseman's Jake is an injured lost boy in a man's body. He foams with impulse and explodes with rage, yet projects a kind of naivete in his romanticized view of life. Cheeseman's compulsive energy is hard to look away from.

Kit Bix fully draws out the abundant humor and brio in Lorraine's character as well as the pathos with which she struggles to hold sway in a world gone out of control. Delta Rae Giordano as Meg and Don Maloney as Baylor play beautifully off each other, with Baylor's venom and bluster bouncing off of Meg's unfailing patience and blindness to conflict. Bear Brummel is wonderfully self-deluded as Mike, picturing himself as the virtuous avenger, and Joy Dolo instills the conflicted Sally with the strength to attempt to find the truth among all the deceptions. Gabriel Murphy convinces us of Frankie's growing shock and anxiety as his confidence in truth and logic is washed away.

The set divides the stage into two areas, representing Beth's and Jake's respective childhood homes. A patch-quilt backdrop depicts the starkness of the American west, both dusty, arid plains and lofty peaks reaching toward the ceiling. The effect is a setting for tall tales, folksy and familiar, though stylized into the most basic forms. Costumes adeptly reflect each character's distinct persona, while shifts in lighting seamlessly move our focus from one family to the other.

At the end, the fate of each character seeming inevitable, in spite of the unlikely events leading to it. We are entertained by Shepard's humor, moved by the change in heart, for better or worse, of the members of these families, and get closer to solving the mystery of why we do what we do, the power of lies in the mind to create their own kind of truth. Theatre Pro Rata's production makes a strong case for A Lie of the Mind as a major work that deserves to be widely seen.

A Lie of the Mind continues through September 27, 2015, a Theatre Pro Rata production at the Nimbus Theater, 1517 Central Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Ticket pricing is based on sliding scale, $14.00 - $41.00. For tickets call 612-234-7135 or visit

Written by Sam Shepard; Director and Producer: Carin Bratlie Wethern; Set Design: Ursula Bowden; Costume Designer: Cole Bylander; Lighting Designer: Merritt Rodriguez; Sound Designer: Jake Davis; Props Designer: Julia Carlis; Stage manager: Clara Costello

Cast: Kit Bix (Lorraine), Bear Brummel (Mike), Nate Cheeseman (Jake), Joy Dolo (Sally), Delta Rae Giordano (Meg), Don Maloney (Baylor), Gabriel Murphy (Frankie), Amy Pirkl (Beth)

Photo: Charles Gorrill

- Arthur Dorman

Also see the season schedule for the Minneapolis - St. Paul region

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