Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, April 2, 1999

‘Lie’ skips pretension
for realistic look at abuse


By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


ANYONE looking for a well-crafted play about domestic violence will find the Ernst Lab Theatre production of Sam Shepard's mid-'80s "A Lie of the Mind" a fine choice. Shepard eschews literary pretensions and writes in a clear and precise style. Where some playwrights might belabor a point, Shepard gives his audience the freedom to consider the story as it develops and draw the intended conclusions.

With this story, things start grim and quickly get grimmer. Panic- stricken Jake (Hank MacCaslin) calls his brother Frankie (Joe Abraham) to report that he beat his wife Beth (Kelly Lynn Williams) to death. Truth is, Beth is alive but suffered brain damage. Beth's big brother, Mike (Travis S.N. Rose), visits her in the hospital and eventually takes her back to the family ranch in Montana.

Frankie suspects Beth is alive and eventually turns up at the ranch during hunting season to apologize for Jake's brutality.

These characters could be limited to two-dimensional "viewpoints." Shepard makes them as complicated as they probably would be in a real domestic violence situation. Director Lurana Donnels O'Malley brings them to life and offers a clear, focused look at domestic violence.

Abusers generally blame their victims -- "Why do you make me do this?" asks Jake, convinced that his wife's interest in dressing up for an acting class is part of her flirtation with other men.

Shepard gradually reveals that -- like many real abusers -- Jake grew up in a dysfunctional family. Frankie and sister Lorraine (Duffy Ford) seem well-adjusted, but their alcoholic father deserted the family and fled to Mexico. He died under mysterious circumstances while the two were visiting him. Their mother (Cassandra Wormser) is bitter, manipulative woman who sometimes coddles Jake and sometimes belittles him.

Beth's parents -- Baylor (Bill Carr) and Meg (Laurie Tanaka) -- aren't much better. They live parallel lives in a loveless relationship. Baylor's response to Beth's decision to marry into "that bunch of Oakies" was to boycott the wedding.

Shepard didn't write this as a clinical study of the dynamics ofof domestic violence. The fact that Jake probably needs extended treatment for other mental problems earns him more pity than an abuser deserves.

Shepard's use of comic relief -- much of it of the red-neck variety -- is a defusing factor through much of this three-act production. O'Malley makes effective use of her talented cast in portraying something of the horrors of domestic violence while also giving the audience plenty of opportunities to laugh at most of Shepard's dysfunctional characters.

Williams is outstanding as Beth. Carr is sparkplug in manycomic moments; Abraham displays his versatility in Act III. MacCaslin is especially good in the early scenes; victims of domestic violence may find his performance too realistic for comfort.

Ford, Rose and Wormser prove worthy of their showcase moments. Tanaka maintains an eerie calm as Beth's emotionally disengaged mother.



Bullet A Lie of the Mind: Presented by Ernst Lab Theatre
Bullet The Place: Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Bullet The dates: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow and 2 p.m. Sunday
Bullet Tickets: $3 to $8
Bullet Call: 956-7655Credit the production crew with finding some great props. Kim Char Meredith and The Sleepin' Dogs play original songs by Sean T.C. O'Malley and Nara Malia Mio Springer as pre-show entertainment and during the intermissions. The band also provides occasional bits of mood music during the performance.

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