A Lie of the Mind — Image via theatreprorata.org

A Lie of the Mind

Theatre Pro Rata
Directed by Carin Bratlie Wethern

Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind is not a tidy play. Its eight characters traverse the American West, pulled back and forth between their contradicting desires to confront reality and to retreat into their own delusions, until the whole affair devolves into a symbolic train wreck, thick with the stench of decomposing masculinity. In their current production at the Nimbus Theater in Minneapolis, director Carin Bratlie Wethern and her colleagues at Theatre Pro Rata do an admirable job of trying to hold it all together. Though they can’t save Shepard’s plot from its own unwieldiness, they do at least leave the audience with some memorable performances and insights into the play’s themes.

A Lie of the Mind — Image via theatreprorata.orgThe play opens in the aftermath of a brutal beating committed by Jake (Nate Cheeseman) against his wife Beth (Amy Pirkl). Convinced he has killed Beth, Jake flees and ends up delirious in a motel, from which his willfully oblivious mother Lorraine (Kit Bix), brother Frankie (Gabriel Murphy), and sister Sally (Joy Dolo) retrieve him and take him to his childhood home. Meanwhile Beth, who has survived but with brain damage, is released from the hospital and taken by her brother Mike (Bear Brummel) to live with her rancher father Baylor (Don Maloney) and her mother Meg (Delta Rae Giordano), who seems a bit shell-shocked herself. Eventually, the two families’ paths cross when first Frankie and then Jake head north to find Beth.

As concerned as A Lie of the Mind may be with the raging impotence of the late 20th Century American male, it is Beth who emerges as the emotional center of Pro Rata’s rendition, due in no small part to Pirkl’s stellar performance. For most of the play, Beth’s primary affliction is a difficulty with language and communication, and Pirkl does an excellent job with her halting, confused dialogue; her desperate efforts to express herself; and her often profound sadness.

The scenes at Beth’s family home are also, on the whole, the most engaging parts of the play. Maloney is alternately funny and frightening as he brings to life Baylor’s stubborn machismo, while Giordano’s scatterbrained Meg, Brummel’s oedipally inclined Mike, and Murphy’s incredulous outsider Frankie complete a matrix of characters whose various pairings yield plenty of interest. Less successful are the scenes at Jake’s home; the actors do their best, but Shepard has given them little to do other than talk out the past as Sally tries to get Jake and Lorraine to acknowledge the events surrounding her father’s death.

Bratlie Wethern and her team make good use of the Nimbus’s space, establishing invisible lines that divide the stage between the play’s various locations, with Beth’s parents’ living room and Jake’s basement bedroom eventually settling into place on opposite ends. Of course, since the former eventually becomes the focus of the play’s energy, this gives audience members sitting on the left a little bit of an advantage.

You may not walk away from A Lie of the Mind bowled over by a coherent artistic vision or emotionally wrenched by the somewhat silly final scenes, but you’ll probably walk away with an appreciation for what Pro Rata has been able to do with a difficult play. A Lie of the Mind plays through Sept. 27.

Photos by Charles Gorrill

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.