A Lie of the Mind Review

Thursday, 5 July, 2001

Sam Shepard’s 1985 dark play has been revived at the Donmar Warehouse with Wilson Milam directing, but unfortunately the play is too long and labours to the extent that boredom sets in.

The story concerns Jake and Beth, a married couple who have an obsessive love for each other. When Jake beats up Beth to the extent of causing her mild brain damage both their respective dysfunctional families become protective towards their own.

This play is a complex one that it is full of questions and not many answers. Why does Jake’s mother, Lorraine, want him to remain in his room all the time? Is it to protect him from the world? Why is Jake so angry? Is he responsible for his father’s death? Or is his sister responsible? When Jake goes looking for Beth why does he take his father’s ashes with him? Why is Beth still obsessed by Jake after all the beatings? Why does Jake abandon his love for Beth at the end? I suppose the play is as the title suggests, about the lies in one’s mind. Afraid to admit to one’s true feelings. Whatever, this is a strange drama with strange characters and strange scenes!

Lasting 3 hours with 2 intervals this play is dragged out far too long. At least half an hour could have been sliced off it to give it more zip. The director succeeds in getting across the situation and feelings of the characters but he overdoes it a bit. I felt like shouting out “Yes, I get the point, now get on with it”!!

The acting is of the highest quality. Catherine McCormack is exceptional as ‘Beth’. The first scenes when she is in hospital unable to talk or walk properly were painfully realistic. Andy Serkis intensely portrays ‘Jake’, a violent, disturbed man who is obviously suffering from mental problems! Sinead Cusack is forceful playing the dominant ‘Lorraine’, and Anna Calder-Marshall captures the essence of Meg, Beth’s mother, who has to cope with the emotional and physical neglect by her husband Baylor, played strongly by Keith Bartlett.

This revival has received mixed notices from the popular press…. BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says the play “shows homelife at its worst and the writer at his best”. He goes on to say, “A piece packed with dark observation and black, black humour.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “It is often powerful stuff, combining passion with welcome shafts of black comedy. Yet greatness eludes this play.” MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, “Time has not been kind to Sam Shepard's play. What looked mythic in 1985 now seems meandering.” He goes on to say, “One can't help wondering why the Donmar chose to dig up this old Shepard.” PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, “A drama that has rapidly dated.” THE EVENING STANDARD says, “By the end, the craziness all seems more actable for the cast than it is watchable for the audience.” ROBERT HEWISON for THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "A bleak but brilliant portrait of two fractured American families."

This production has a strong story, some tense moments and some fine acting, but it goes on too long resulting in a hit and miss affair. If I had to pick a word that best describes the characters and the play it is insanity!

(Darren Dalglish)

Links to full reviews from newspapers...

Daily Telegraph
The Times
The Guardian
The Independent
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