Sam Shepard is known for raw, family-based American drama. He captures relationships at their most intense and writes strong but often confused and conflicted characters. A Lie of the Mind is Paragon’s third offering in their tenth anniversary season,in which they have set out to present pieces they were afraid to take on before. Fresh off his performance in The Pride, which received multiple Henry nominations and one win, Ensemble member Jarrad Holbrook helms this gut-wrenching production featuring two families torn by secrets, lies, and love.
Paragon Stimulates with Affective Design
HE SAID: The very first thing that caught me about this show was the set design by Warren Sherrill. Split into two portions representing the two households in the story, the almost entirely bare set walls were treated and textured allowing for interesting shadows to be formed on the walls as lights changed. I presume this was done to amplify director Jarrad Holbrook’s notion that these people are living in an excavation site where they continually dig up the truth. But for me, I envisioned items that had been wrapped in thick brown paper used to protect fragile items in a move or in storage. It was if the people had been protecting each other from the truth for so long their world had become fragile and needed to be enveloped by this paper before it was destroyed. It was simple yet very beautiful choice.
SHE SAID: I agree that the set was striking, but for a different reason. For me, it was a modern expression of a dated way of living, kind of a rustic Tetris theme, that was both aesthetically appealing but set the scene well. I also really enjoyed that director Jarrad Holbrook took advantage of the unique space at Kim Robard’s Dance, including using the space behind the audience for off-stage voices, and having individuals start to speak upon entering from right next to the audience. It gave made me feel like the action was happening 360 degrees around me, and that I was also trapped with these characters in their circumstance.
Holbrook’s Clever Staging Captures Audience
HE SAID: The 360 nature of the staging was very affective – largely in part for its diversity. Usually, that kind of staging is used just for entrances and exits, but in addition to having people enter from almost every side of the space, Holbrook set the first scene dialogue (which takes place in the dark) with one person on stage and another right behind the audience. He could have recorded it or had the other person just off stage, but placing the placement but us literally in the middle of the situation on stage. From then on, I was going with the family because I felt as though I had been forced into their lives both by the staging and by the intense powerful performances.
SHE SAID: Sam Shepard is not for the weak of heart, and as always, Paragon consistently produces performances that are so good that it’s at times painful to watch, and this production was no exception. James O’Hagan Murphy gave a simple and straightforward performance, and was believable even as he snuggled beneath a thick blanket in the sweltering heat to warm himself. It was hot just looking at him, but I believed that he was really craving the heat. Bill Hahn nearly stole the show with some of the greatest density of comedy throughout, delivering each line with the serious conviction that expertly lets the humor shine through.
Lie of the Mind’s Cast is Simply Powerhouse
HE SAID: While the entire cast is a powerhouse of local talent – one that is worth the price of admission itself – the most notable performance for me was by Emily Patton Davies. As the brain damaged Beth, Emily Patton Davies rises above by avoiding the trap of playing a condition and fully committing to an active struggle. You can see her searching in her mind for the words to say, finding them, and then fight to get them out but her damage won’t let her. It was a truly heart-rending performance.
SHE SAID: I also enjoyed Davies’ performance quite a bit. A few of the other performances faded in and out for me as play progressed, but honestly I’m not sure whether I was identifying with their characters, which were so real and flawed that I started to feel the same kind of oscillating compassion and distaste I would feel if meeting them in real life, or whether the acting performances were at all inconsistent. One performance that just kept improving for me was Carolyn Valentine . Her role seemed puzzlingly inconsequential to start, but by her monologue in the middle of the second portion of the play, she absolutely had me hooked.
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Paragon puts A Lie of the Mind on Perfect Display
THEY SAID: Theatre is made to tell stories. In a lot of cases, those stories are just contracted to entertain you. In special cases, the show can both entertain and move deeply. That is where Sam Shepard lives. It is powerful material that has moments of comedy but really focuses on the love and brutality of human relationships – smack dab in the middle of Paragon’s wheelhouse. There are incredible performances on display in this piece and the design is beautiful. If you are looking for something a bit more substantial, make your way down to Paragon and check out this show.
For a full history and plot synopsis of A Lie of the Mind, see the wikipedia article. A Lie of the Mind plays through August 14 at Kim Robards Dance. Click the banner above for tickets and more information.