November 30, 2001

Adelaide Theatre

27 Nov 2001
Murray Bramwell

A Lie of the Mind
by Sam Shepard. Brink Productions.
The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre.
Ends 1 December.

What is a lie of the mind ? In Sam Shepard’s play of that name, his troubled central character Jake says – “These things – in my head – lie to me. Everything lies. Tells me a story.“ These lies are fears, jealousies, suspicions and fixations. They have murky origins in a half-remembered past and have driven Jake to murderous rage against his wife Beth. But Shepard’s title also implies a kind of mental topography, a lie of the mind, like a lie of the land – shaped and weathered, contoured by habit and eroded by time.

Director Tim Maddock and the ensemble from Brink Productions have their hands full with this sprawling drama of two families in conflict with each other, and from within. Set in Montana, the action focuses on the fallout from yet another beating Beth has taken from her husband. Her parents take her in but don’t want to know, Jake’s mother, Lorraine, is also in denial as he returns to his boyhood home in a half crazy state. It is the futile task of the couple’s respective brothers to make amends, or seek some kind of reparation.

Maddock has designed a sparse set, probingly lit by Geoff Cobham – a hospital gurney, a single bed, a rough old lounge serve the shifting narrative. Above, like wonky rafters in fractured house, are suspended wooden beams and hints of a child’s past. Giant model warplanes evoke the past glory of Jake’s father, once the Right Stuff, now dead from the hard stuff.

The performers respond well to an emotionally high-octane text. Jed Kurzel is volatile and narcissistic as Jake, with a damaged boyishness which accounts perhaps for the long-suffering loyalty in his brother, Frankie, played with steady
precision by David Mealor. Rebecca Havey has memorable scenes as Beth, seeing the world, and the people in it, with a savant’s insight.

Nick Hope is the gnarly rancher, Baylor, bloodied by his war with nature, and William Allert manages a kind of desparate comedy as Beth’s brother, Mike, the thwarted nemesis. Two capable young actors, Colleen Cross and Michaela Cantwell are miscast as the mothers, Lorraine and Meg. The age divide is too much and the strong seams of generation and gender in the text are weakened as a consequence.

Brink have brought us a strong production, though – all three hours of it. Shepard’s play is a saga of individuals struggling to understand themselves in the mirror of those they have spent their lives with. They are also searching other terrain – the Montana of their own minds, and the impediments they have created there.

“Montana of the mind” The Australian, November 30, 2001, p.18.

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