Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"A Lie of the Mind" by Theatre Pro Rata at nimubs theatre

An all too real depiction of the real-life hanging of a circus elephant. A disturbing adaptation of a well-known dystopian novelA devastating and thought-provoking portrait of a child molester. And now a deep dive into an abusive relationship. Theatre Pro Rata doesn't shy away from the tough stuff. After a brief trip to the lighter side with The Illusion at Park Square this summer, Pro Rata returns to the dark side with a sobering look at abusive and dysfunctional families in Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind. This dark fable of a modern day Western offers little hope, but once again Pro Rata offers a beautiful, well-acted and -directed, and disturbing evening of theater.

The play begins shortly after Jake (a frighteningly good Nate Cheeseman) has beaten his wife Beth (a frail yet strong Amy Pirkl) so badly that she ends up in the hospital with brain damage, and has to relearn how to walk and talk. This is not the first time this has happened, and Beth's brother Mike (Bear Brummel) and parents (Don Maloney and Delta Rae Giordano) take her home to recover in Montana where she grew up. Similarly, Jake's sister (Joy Dolo) and bitter mother (Kit Bix) take him in while his brother Frankie (Gabriel Murphy) travels to Montana to check on Beth and make sure she's not dead, as Jake feared. What follows is an exploration of three dysfunctional families. Beth's father is the stereotypical head of the household, spending all his time in the hunting shack and ordering his wife to apply oil to his dry and cracking feet. Jake's mother has never recovered from her husband leaving and his tragic death. And we know how Jake and Beth ended up.

Nate Cheeseman and Amy Pirkl
as the not so happy couple
(photo by Charles Gorrill)
This is one of those plays that makes one happy to be single. What's the point of getting married if all you do is make each other miserable, and raise miserable children who go out to make other people miserable? None of these characters are particularly likeable, but all are beautifully brought to life by the strong cast under the direction of Carin Bratlie Wethern. Perhaps the least hateful of these miserable people is Beth, who, like many so-called simple-minded characters, speaks simple and eloquent truth in her blunt and mixed up speech. And Frankie seems like a good guy, trying to make up for his brother's sins. But maybe looking for good guys isn't the point of the play. Maybe it's to recognize the bad guys within all of us. And then hopefully not marry one.

The starkly beautiful West of Sam Shepard's imagination is well represented on nimbus' intimate stage by scenic designer Ursula Bowden. The stage elegantly and seamlessly combines three very different sets - a hotel, hospital room, and childhood basement bedroom - with a painted Western backdrop tying them together. The former two sets are replaced by the Montana living room, which shares some of the same space with the basement bedroom. In fact they almost seem to exist in the same space, even though they're presumably hundreds of miles apart, as Jake and Beth can almost seem to see each other across the distance.

The last Shepard play I saw was only an hour long, so I was expecting this one to be short as well. It's not, coming in at almost three hours with intermission. That's a long time to spend with these miserable people in their miserable lives, but it's a compelling and engaging play despite the misery. A Lie of the Mind continues through September 27.