A Lie of the Mind

The Vancouver Playhouse, Oct. 7 to Nov. 5, 1988



Lie of the Mind: Photos by David Cooper, 1988

A Lie of the Mind

The Vancouver Playhouse production of A Lie of the Mind was a homecoming for Larry Lillo. As was pointed out by Malcolm Page in an earlier presentation, Lillo brought his sense of style to the larger theatre from Tamahnous by way of the Grand Theatre in London.

The play was a stunning production which made of the Playhouse a space of great depth and resonance. Pam Johnson, continuing to collaborate with Lillo after their work at the Grand, created a set expansive enough to accommodate Shepard's sprawling family drama.

Thematically, the play continues to explore the pain which results when someone believes fantasies are more real than someone else's life. Jake beats Beth senseless because he imagines she's having an affair with an actor she's rehearsing with:

JAKE: Okay. Then she starts readin' the lines with me, at night. In bed. Readin' the lines. I'm helpin' her out, right? Helpin' her memorize the damn lines so she can run off every morning and say 'em to some other guy. Day after day. Same lines. And these lines are all about how she's bound and determined to get this guy in the sack with her after all these years he's been ignoring her. How she still loves him even though he's been ignoring her. How she still loves him even though he hates her. How she's saving her body up for him and him only.

FRANKIE: Well, it was just a play, wasn't it?

JAKE: Yeah, a play. That's right. Just a play. "Pretend." That's what she said. "Just pretend." I know what they were doing! I know damn well what they were doin'! I know what that acting shit is all about. They try to "believe" they're the person. Right? Try to believe so hard they're the person that they actually think they become the person. So you know what that means, don't ya?


JAKE: They start doin' all the same stuff the person does!

FRANKIE: What person?

JAKE: The person! the--whad'ya call it? The--

FRANKIE: Character?

JAKE: Yeah. the character. That's right. They start acting that way in real life. Just like the character. Walkin' around--talkin' that way. You shoulda seen the way she started to walk and talk. I couldn't believe it. Changed her hair and everything. Put a wig on. Changed her clothes. Everything changed. She was unrecognizable. I didn't even know who I was with anymore. I told her. I told her, look--"I don't know who you think you are now but I'd just as soon you come back to the real world here." And you know what she tells me?


JAKE: She tells me this is the real world. This acting shit is more real than the real world to her. Can you believe that? And she was tryin' to convince me that I was crazy? (9-10)

Jake's double-standard--that his imaginings are real while Beth's are not--eventually prompts his violent outburst, leaving Beth shattered in more ways than one. In this passage, Jake seems to echo examples of Shepard's spontaneous writing--found in the Boston University archives--describing his own feelings of jealousy.

Beth is one of Shepard's most touching characters. She must improvise her way back to a new sense of identity after her trauma with Jake. Speaking in aphasic tongues, she delivers some of the most heartbreaking lines in Shepard's repertoire:

BETH: (very simple to Frankie) This--is my father. He's given up on love. Love is dead for him. My mother is dead for him. Things live for him to be killed. Only death counts for him. Nothing else. This--This--(She moves slowly to Frankie.) This is me. This is me now. The way I am. Now. This. All. Different. I--I live inside this. Remember. Remembering. You. You--were one. I know you. I know--love. I know what love is. I can never forget. That. Never. (57)
Jake, of course, remains isolated by this own distorted understanding of reality and fantasy as he struggles to shake the past and his old man. He's vulnerable, and he knows it, like so many who resort to violence to reassure themselves. In the final scene, Baylor and Meg--Beth's parents--fold the American flag with studied precision as their children cling desperately to hope.

[Excerpts from Sam Shepard, A Lie of the Mind, New York: New American Library, 1986.]


© Marshall Soules 2001