Southwark Playhouse, London – until 27 May 2017
“Love… its a disease that makes ya’ feel good. While it lasts. Then, when it’s gone, yer worse off than before you caught it.”
Despite being blown away by True West, something about Sam Shepard makes me a little wary. I liked rather than loved Fool For Love and ultimately steered clear of the recent Buried Child and it was with a little trepidation that I allowed myself to make my way into A Lie of the Mind, produced here at the Southwark Playhouse by the folks at Defibrillator Theatre. Part of the problem I think lies in my antipathy towards the American dream as a narrative driver, in all honesty I often find I could care less about characters who are constructed around it. So a production has to do a lot to create the kind of context that makes me care and I’d say that director James Hillier just about manages it here, albeit with a couple of reservations.
In rural Montana, a part of the declining American West, the fallout from a particularly vicious episode of the brutally abusive marriage between Jake and Beth plays out. He’s retreated back to his childhood bedroom and she is recovering from her substantial injuries at her family’s cabin and in parallel, we track – through the most abstracted of ways – the dysfunctional family bonds, their violent legacies and the crucially unexpressed love, that have led them to this point and which appear to offer little alternative beyond.
Hillier does his best to alleviate the denseness of Shepard’s dialogue with live music from James Marples but there’s no mistaking the challenge the playwright sets his audiences and for all the good work here, I did find myself failing to remain engaged throughout the lengthy running time. Nancy Crane and John Stahl as Beth’s parents are the undoubted highlights, and Rebecca Brower’s set design is cleverly conceived in the way it anchors its settings in their location. But for all the weight of the symbolism, I rarely got the depth of feeling that I crave to make me really invest in a story about love.