BWW Review: A LIE OF THE MIND at Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre Gets Into Your Head
If you want to sit through an evening of light-hearted, feel good entertainment where you don't have to think, this play is not for you. This one will get into your head. And you might not be happy about that. Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre is running Sam Shepard's A LIE OF THE MIND now through September 23.
Jack Parkhurst directs a remarkable eight member cast assisted by British-trained Micah Goodding of Kilgore College in Texas. Goodding was certified with the British Academy of Dramatic Combat, and there is plenty of combat in this three act play. It feels real. The cast pulls out all the stops. Verbal abuse. Emotional abuse. And some pretty intense physical abuse. It is all there and it is not pretty.
The play opens with Jake (James Booker III) yelling into a pay phone to his brother Frankie (Chandler Boyte) that he'd gone too far this time and killed his wife, Beth (Kacey Rose). Jake is convinced that the love scene Beth has been playing in a local theatre is real. His jealousy escalated into violence and he beat her until he was sure she was dead. The scene shifts to a hospital room where Mike (Kevin Snyder) is trying to convince his battered sister Beth...none too gently...that she is not dead. But Beth is brain damaged and cannot communicate outside of jerky scrambled phrases interspersed with a few acutely perceptive remarks.
The story oscillates between Jake's family in California and Beth's in Montana. Both families are entrenched in violence. Jake's widowed mother Lorraine (Aly Faber) declares that Jake is not worthy of love and blames any woman stupid enough to be with him for her own death. She has been wounded by the death of her drunken Air Force pilot husband who had abandoned them years ago. Yet, she clings to troubled Jake and rejects her level headed daughter Sally (Jess Hrbek) and son Frankie who, as the voice of reason, cannot make himself heard. When he heads to Montana to see for himself whether Beth is dead, he further enrages Jake who alternates between comatose and crazy.
Beth's family is no better. Her misogynistic father Baylor (Jon Kava) is verbally abusive to his timid wife Meg (Samantha Hannigan) and feels chained by females. He commands Meg to remove his boots and oil his feet, but spends most of his time hidden away in his hunting cabin. The last time he kissed his wife was 20 years ago. Even Beth in her limited mental capacity remembers what love is. She tells Frankie that love is dead for her father. Her mother is dead to her father. Living things only exist to be killed.
When Frankie shows up, Mike runs him off and Baylor accidentally shoots him in the thigh. Mike is determined to exact revenge on Jake, and if it includes making his brother suffer, so be it. Since there is a blizzard and his car has been buried, Frankie is forced to remain on their couch taking verbal bullets while resisting the advances of confused Beth who is convinced that Frankie is the "woman-man" she wants to marry. She remembers Jake and yet she doesn't.
You want to despise these people. They are horrible human beings. But there is a glimmer of vulnerability. Jake is so deeply intertwined with Beth he cannot separate his mind from hers, and ultimately offers sacrificial love. Mike desperately wants the approval of his father and will drag in the carcass of a deer or the body of a man--whatever it takes to prove he is worthy. Lorraine speaks with a venomous tongue, but hangs onto her son with suffocating devotion.
Nebraska Wesleyan University was recently named by OnStage Blog as one of the top 25 schools in the nation for theatre performance. This cast is evidence that the award is well deserved. The acting is some of the best I've seen. Each and every one is powerful. The speaking is effectual, well measured, and clear. The mannerisms natural and unaffected. James Booker III is especially menacing and Jon Kava is downright despicable. If actors can cause this kind of visceral reaction, they must be doing something right.
This is a very difficult piece that was extremely well done. I felt more like a bystander witnessing tragedy unfold than a person watching theatre. I left emotionally wrung out.
A LIE OF THE MIND runs Sept 15, 20-22 at 7:30 pm and Sep 16, 23 at 2:00 pm.
Photo Credit: Allison Woods