Extreme family conflict is a hallmark in several Sam Shepard plays, and “A Lie of the Mind” is no exception. It begins with a furious young man confessing to his brother that he’s just killed his wife, because she wouldn’t obey him.
“Then I told her she had to wear a bra, and she paid no attention to that either. You could see right through her damned blouse, right straight through it. And she never wore underpants either, that’s what really got me. No underpants, you could see everything.”
“Well, she never wore underpants, did she?”
(icily) “How do you know?”
“Well, I mean, I think you told me once.”
Homicidal fury and moments of levity live cheek by jowel in this odd yet compelling play, which details the strange interaction of two incredibly dysfunctional families somewhere in the American West. We meet a woman suffering from brain damage after a beating, and see an accidental shooting in the woods during deer season. This gives the production jarring images of injury, including a bandaged head, and a bloody pair of blue jeans with bullet holes on both sides of one leg.
Yet somehow, the play feels like a dark yet hopeful comedy, rather than tragedy. There’s weirdness, physical and emotional damage erupting up on stage. But you still get this unlikely sense these folks might somehow turn their crazy, difficult lives around. Director Frank Condon, who has guided River Stage skillfully for 15 years, is more sensitive to American social issues and history than any other director in the Sacramento region. Condon turns this strange story into something that we can all identify with, and it makes for a bracing, unusual theatre experience.
“A Lie of the Mind” plays through October 25th at River Stage, on the Cosumnes River College campus in Sacramento.