A Lie of The Mind, American Theater Company. Sam Shepard's 1985 drama marks the moment when one of the nation's greatest playwrights irretrievably lost his genius. He shoehorns into this saga of two families falling apart all the successful elements from Buried Child, True West, and Fool for Love, creating a formulaic script without poetry or humanity. The first act is a series of static scenes in which the characters repeatedly demonstrate their crises rather than act on them, and the following two acts detail the resulting manufactured, unconvincing outbursts. Worst of all, Shepard sends Jake and his wife, Beth, whom he beats into a state of brain damage, almost immediately into semidelusional states, eliminating meaningful moral agency from characters who face enormous ethical challenges.
Given the material, it's not surprising that most of director Brian Russell's three-hour production feels forced. What is surprising is its stiff staginess: the actors often stand awkardly in theatrical voids rather than create genuine family environments and relationships. Odder still is the cast's general lack of engagement as they struggle to find the stakes that might have given the evening some urgency. A few performances stand out, notably the always reliable James Leaming as Jake's hapless brother, and there are signs of life in the final act. But it's too little too late.