BWW Reviews: Trinity Rep Ends Fiftieth Season with Uneven A LIE OF THE MIND
As the summer arrives, and many theater companies either end their season or switch to lighter, summer-friendly fare, one can look back and reflect on the theatrical offerings of the past year. There have without doubt been many weighty, serious and thought-provoking plays on our area stages during the fall and winter. Trinity Rep adds its own heavyweight into the final rounds of the season with their production of Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind. Like much of Trinity's fiftieth season has been, it's a show that is uneven and, arguably, an underwhelming experience in the final analysis. Like many of the other recent similar theatrical offerings, it is also at times unquestionably riveting and spellbinding.
When the lights come up on the plays opening scene, we are thrust into the action as something has just gone horribly wrong between a man, Jake, and his girlfriend, Beth. Calling home to his brother, Frankie, Jake says Beth is dead at his own hands, although we in the audience soon find out that isn't actually true. Jake and Beth retreat back to their childhood homes and their respective families. While they may attempt to seek some kind of support or protection there, little of either is actually offered to them. At least, not the kind of support or protection they really need or want.
Shepard, well-known as a Hollywood actor as well as a director and playwright, has crafted a portraint of two families trying to cope with the consequences of the tragic even that begins the play. Both families are full of rough-and-tumble and rough around the edges types, hard-living, hardworking and mostly uneducated denizens of the American west. They might be labelled by some as "hicks" or "poor white trash" and they are highly recognizable people, the kind we've all known or met. At times, Shepard's characters are a little too stereotypical, acting and behaving just how we expect their "type" to behave. They seem to be following a standard pattern, doing what's expected, rather than acting as if they are unique, individual human beings.
What is unique in Shepard's script, which clocks in at three hours long, is the way he tells the stories of these people. Their stories intertwine and co-mingle as scenes overlap and bleed into each other. There are also touches of the absurd or surreal, making the audience wonder if it's real or if it's all just happening in the mind of one of the characters. Another interesting touch is the use of music throughout, including a musician standing on stage, performing a solo number in the middle of the play. This aspect of the play, the music, is one part of Trinity's production that is pulled off perfectly and one of the show's highlights.
Not as successful is the overall vision of the play, led by director Brian Mertes. There are glimmers of brilliance here and there but there are just as many times when it doesn't feel like a cohesive whole. Maybe that was part of the plan, though. Much time and energy is spent on theatrics, stage tricks and gimmickry, which can be good or bad, depending on one's viewpoint. It seemed to me that, at times, the tricks and gimmicks were unnecessary and took away from the characters and the story. There were moments that felt like the theatrical tricks could have been left out or toned down so that more attention could be paid to the nuances and finer details of telling the story Shepard wrote.
Uneven is too strong a word for the ensemble, but there are no doubt some who shine more than others. It's the younger cast members, specifically, who are a revelation, stealing the show from their older castmates. As Beth, Britt Faulkner delivers one of the best performances of the theatrical season. She crafts a fully committed and completely believable portrayal of a woman who is brain damaged by her husband's violent attack. Faulkner is mesmerizing as a woman who is sympathetic, fascinating and heartbreaking.
As Jake, the man who committed the horrific act, Benjamin Grills delivers an outstanding performance. While at first he seems to be just another big, dumb uneducated man who lashed out violently, Jake turns out to be a much more complicated character. Grills perfectly portrays those complexities as we get to know more about Jake, his past and what brought him to this moment. Charlie Thurston is also brilliant as Jake's brother, Frankie. It is a completely truthful performance that has the audience feeling every bit of pain, both emotional and physical, that is felt by the character. Rounding out the trio of siblings is Rebecca Gibel as Sally, Jake and Fankie's sister. Gibel is not given as much to do, her character less interesting or complex than the others, but her performance is no less riveting. Rounding out the younger cast is Billy Finn as Mike, Beth's brother who's trying to do the right thing by his wounded sister. Finn's performance is perfect as he balances a role that is at some moments hilarious and at other moments completely hartbreaking.
Those young people have parents played by actors in Trinity's resident acting company. Janice Duclos plays Lorraine, the mother of Jake, Frankie and Sally. While the character is especially stereotypical and not very interesting, Duclos delivers a reliably excellent performance, as she always does. As the parents of Beth and Mike, Timothy Crowe and Anne Scurria get much more interesting roles to play. Crowe is outstanding as Baylor, the salty and cantankerous head of the household. Crowe seems to be having a great time in the role and brings undeniable charisma and passion to every moment. Scurria is Crowe's equal as his wife, Meg. This is especially true later in the play, when Scurria gets to break out of the character's stereotypical model and raise a little hell. It is another unforgettable performance for the actress who has delivered so many of those over the years.
Trinity's production values are as excellent as always, although the set design by Eugene Lee is back in the uneven category. While the stark, bare, concrete appearance of the theater is perfect, there are some touches that are just distracting. A wall of window fans? What's the point, really? A number of technical touches seemed like they were added because it sounded like a really cool thing to do, rather than something that truly helps to tell the story. On the other hand, the costume design by Cait O'Conner, lighting design by Dan Scully and sound design by Broken Chord were all wonderful. A special mention also must be made for Phillip Roebuck who wrote and performed the fantastic music. It's too bad they weren't selling CDs of the soundtrack in the lobby, I would have been first in line to buy one.
A Lie of the Mind runs in Trinity's Dowling Theater through June 29th. Show times are 7:30 Tuesday through Sunday with additional shows at 2:00 on Wednesdays (4th and 18th), Saturdays (14th and 28th) and Sundays (8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th). Tickets are $22 to $68 and are available by calling the box office at 401-351-4242, online at www.trinityrep.com, or by visiting the box office at 201 Washington Street in Providence. Phone hours are Noon to 8pm, Monday through Sunday, walk-up hours are Noon to 8pm, Tuesday through Sunday.