Friday, July 06, 2012

'Lie of the Mind' offers powerful, challenging night of theater

With their production of Sam Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind," M&D Productions is doing what they're known best for: challenging, emotionally complex and thought-provoking theater.

Clocking in at two hours and 45 minutes including two intermissions, "A Lie of the Mind," which opened Thursday at Your Theatre in North Conway and is playing Thursday through Saturday for the next three weeks, is not a light, easy night of theater. The play is an exploration of the repercussions and the self-perpetuating nature of abuse.

The play opens in the aftermath of a brutal act of violence. In a jealous rage, Jake (Brian Chamberlain) has beaten his wife Beth (Janette Kondrat) to the point of brain damage. He believes her to be dead and runs to his brother Frankie (Tomer Oz) to calm him down.

Beth is in the care of her brother Mike (Daniel Otero), but eventually Beth's parents Baylor and Meg (Bill Knolla and Stacy Sand) get involved. On the other side, Jake's mother Lorraine (Christina Howe) and sister Sally (Kate Gustafson) are trying to help as well. The play bounces back and forth between the parallel reactions to this terrible event.

The actors are performing on a stage designed by Deborah Jasien to look like a pane of shattered glass. This is a none-too-subtle, but effective representation of the minds of the characters.

Although it was Beth who was left physically brain damaged, Jake's actions against Beth seem to have left his mind fragmented and confused as well. Both Beth and Jake are reduced to childlike states as they lie to themselves about what happened.

The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote in his review of the 2010 Broadway revival of the show that "it's not easy putting together a complete ensemble (there is no starring role) up to the demands of a script in which hyperreal and surreal teeter in delicate balance."

Director Ken Martin has managed to do just that though. He pulls performances out of his actors that go to deep, dark places. The entire cast bravely exposes raw nerves.

Kondrat, who played a different kind of crazy in "Misery's Child," finds a sweet innocence in portraying Beth. Beth's mind is damaged, but not lost. The pieces are all there, but the order is jumbled. Sometimes she has moments of clarity, but other times she's like a child lost in a supermarket.

Chamberlain finds similar notes in his performance, but also has an extraordinary anger inside of him that comes seething out of him. Even so, in spite of Jake's act of cruelty being the catalyst for the entire play, Chamberlain manages to make the character sympathetic.

Howe and Gustafson share a powerful scene together as mother and daughter attempt to confront a grim secret. It is a hard scene to watch with both actresses tapping into heavy emotions. Howe reveals previously unseen depths as an actress. Her Lorraine is full of bitter hatred and venomous vengeance and Howe brings those emotions painfully and completely across.

Knolla is a bellowing cantankerous old man, who is often cruel, but just as often right in how to deal with Beth's fragile state. Sand's Meg has a mind that is nearly as flighty as her daughter's and Sand does a nice job capturing her sweet-natured simpleness. This dysfunctional family is topped off with Otero's over-protective brother, who is angry at everyone, even the one he means to protect.

This already tense family dynamic is further complicated when Frankie shows up to confirm Beth is alive. Frankie spends much of the play in pain, for reasons best left discovered by the audience. When everyone around him appears to be going insane, he oftens seems to be the only voice of reason, but no one will listen. Oz does a good job portraying his confusion and frustration.

"A Lie of the Mind" is a difficult, often obtuse play that challenges its audience. Shepard realizes that the world is not black and white. He asks hard, even troubling, questions about the essence of humanity, love and how to break a continuing cycle of abuse. In the place of simple answers he leaves uncertainty and ambiguity. It is an intense, but rewarding experience.

For more information or tickets call the box office at 662-7591.

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