FringeReview UK 2017
Sam Shepard’s 1985 A Lie of the Mind Directed by James Hillier opens at the Southwark with a kind of split set by Rebecca Brower where the more established homestead emerges later. The two areas float in tenebrous light. Foregrounding is a bed doing duties for both a severely battered wife in hospital and her husband almost equally afflicted at home. Jai Mojaria’s lighting demarks the differences between hospital and home, and home and home: one bleak and bright, the other traditionally warm. A Neon moon like a Motel sign glowers over the proceedings to ‘Blue Moon’ and other tunes drifted from Max Pappenheim’s sound with James Marples introducing stranger but live musics. Till May 27th.
Sam Shepard declared that the wrong play got the Pulitzer. Buried Child (recently at the Trafalgar) was he felt crude by comparison with the later 1985 A Lie of the Mind. Directed by James Hillier it opens at the Southwark with a kind of split set by Rebecca Brower where the more established homestead emerges alter. The two areas float in tenebrous light. Foregrounding is a bed doing duties for both a severely battered wife in hospital and her husband almost equally afflicted at home. Jai Mojaria’s lighting demarks the differences between hospital and home, and home and home: one bleak and bright, the other traditionally warm. A Neon moon like a Motel sign glowers over the proceedings to ‘Blue Moon’ and other tunes drifted from Max Pappenheim’s sound with James Marples introducing stranger but live musics.
It’s an intricate, shifting play of two dysfunctional families. Shepard’s trademark landscape of True West (his 1983 play’s title) spreads before us rinsed with symbolism and often involving someone from the acting or screenwriting world. It touches down here. Amanda Dowler’s Beth is an actress whose profession’s high-heeled dressing riles her psychotically jealous husband Jake (Gethin Anthony) who pulps her so badly she’s at least temporarily brain-damaged and speaks in curiously disembodied truths, a stripped language that tears through normal non-communicative chatter. Dowler excels as a fragile truth-teller shifting as her injury nudges her behaviour pattern yet another way. Anthony’s fragile from the start, we see the outcome of his own violence rebounding, panicking to his brother Michael Fox’s sensitive decent Frankie who hauls him to his bed of imaginary nails, stuck with guilt. Whilst his mother tends him and sister leaves in protest we discover both mothers are in denial their luckless progeny are married at all.
The two brothers exude a kind of realism. Robert Lonsdale’s Mike having rescued Beth is on no mood to parley with Frankie brandishing a gun. Lonsdale’s trigger-hair anger seems born from playing second to his father’s supremacy all his life. But this time it’s he who’s shot the buck deer. We soon realise Mike too is almost as violent as Jake, but its his father Baylor (a magnificent John Stahl) who having failed with the deer puts a bullet clean through Frankie’s leg and he’s holed up with the opposition. An increasing tendresse with Beth can’t disguise his festering leg.
That something weird occurs, Beth forgetting Jake’s existence to hit on Frankie – much to the latter’s terror – should alert us to the way Shepard completely rewrites people’s narratives, held for decades and gone in moments. It’s where his drama’s located.
Jake himself has polarised what’s left of his family, haunted by the death of his airman father he can’t negotiate sister Sally’s blunt truths, her refusal to buy into what mother Lorraine’s decides is a womb for as long as he ants. Kate Fahy needlingly bring out her incestuous concerns whilst content to banish sally. Jake however escapes bound up with an American flag – can this really be symbolism? – staggering out towards as it happens, Mike.
There were comments about the 2001 Donmar revival about a paternalist patriotic Shepard’s defining women against men. but after Jakes departure the rapprochement between mother and daughter results in a blazing reconciliation. The final scene between them is touching, infinitely sifting the past and deciding what to do about boxing it. Laura Rogers’s Sally seems along with Frankie the sanest person in the region. Her anger yet tender retractions of it, flicker off Fahy like a lighted match; there are several of those.
Just as Jake trouserless in snow wrapped with the star-spangled makes towards Beth, her parents fold another. Stahl’s portrayal is delightfully capricious, zig-zagging fond paternalism, rancour, cracker-barrel logic and sheer prejudice to anyone within his erratic range. Long-suffering Meg is beautifully hollowed out, almost fleshed out by Nancy Crane’s distracted portrayal of someone suppressing anything out of their rituals. In a post-truth-post-Trump-election year, such dotty pleasure at folding the American flag generates its own post-truth. If it ever meant something about woods-folk and frontier integrity it sure as hell doesn’t now and joins the other meta-myths of America in the chopped sentences of demented individuals we see too much of. The extraordinary convergence of the ending seems not quaint and outdated but prescient again.