W.I.T. Series interviewee Gina DeMayo's Thriftshop Theater Workshop has just opened their sixth show. TINSQUO takes a look.
Twenty years after it’s NYC premiere in December of 1985, Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind returns to the New York stage via Thriftshop Theatre Workshop’s January 2006 production. Shepard’s prescient writing renders the past two decades a single, long moment in the familial and political strictures of our time.
While describing imagined affairs and his wife Beth’s “oiling herself” in daily preparation for rehearsal of her role in a local play, Jake explains to his younger brother, Frankie, why he beat her to death…he thinks. He believes her assertion that acting is more real than reality and reveals that he could not bear her inhabiting any living reality he experienced as separate from his own.
Here, the audience is given a first clue as to the riddles of the evening ahead as Shepard frames - in lover’s terms - the agony of Man’s choice to celebrate or obliterate each soul’s gift to the collective experience. The writing hums with an undercurrent of America's violent "globalization" of cultures.
Thriftshop Theatre Workshop’s intricate weave of eight lives knotted into a psychosis called “family” forms a strangulating web. Its actors trace the cyclical corollary between ignorance, addiction and trauma-induced narcissism, then hermetically entomb it in prairie blizzards, patriotism and desert dust storms - a monument to rural tragedy.
Since all of the characters in this play occupy a medically and spiritually down-regulated state of brain function, it is horrific but no real surprise when Beth - our actress, heroine and innocent of this rural isolation - awakens to find herself hospitalized for brain damage inflicted by her rage-prone husband, Jake.
Actors Wendy Brantley and Abby Huston alternate performances of the lead role of Beth in one week stints during the run. Abby Huston’s Beth of Act One offers a finely felt expression of massive trauma in each aspect of the body and being.
The audience cringes to witness her satisfy her brother’s commands to recover by slowly rising from her bed and walking. Each bruised organ and cracked rib registers as she stands with only the use of her extremities.
Beth’s trauma has liberated her to truthteller status in the story and this actress is a truthteller before the audience. Upon standing, there is an unbearable beauty as she states observantly: “I am above my feet.”
This pure physical embodiment of void where her core had been is mirrored mentally by Beth’s Act Two certitude that her own brother, Mike, allowed the hospital surgeons to “Cut me out. Cut brain. Cut.”
The masculine banishment of the feminine and logic’s rejection of intuition are embodied, too, in the Thriftshop Theatre Workshop set by Andrew Boyce. The stage is bicameral, composed of antipodal sets housing the two families like the two hemispheres of the brain. Folk and country classics, including Dylan’s “Girl of the North Country,” link the two worlds by an unseen vibratory vessel.
This thin, emotional thread is fortified visually by Boyce’s spare, effective devices. Featured is the four by forty foot painting of a roiling, blood-purple horizon spanning the width of the stage. The characters travel back and forth across this sea on a radio-wave corpus callosum between hemispheres. In fact, Beth’s mother, Meg, advocates for the hospital trip to collect her daughter, “They got good radio between here and Billings, Dad.”
Shepard seems to suggest, in Beth’s piercing child-mind perceptions, that truth exists in between and in the eradication of these polarized hemispheres. Wendy Brantley, the actress alternating the lead with Huston, yields a performance that makes this reintegration resound again and again in a haunting offering of Beth that seems firmly rooted on that vibratory tightrope connecting two realities.
Accomplishing her jarringly natural staccato, without affect, is the lynchpin of this production. It releases her character’s words from vocal convention and allows them to hang in a different space. In fact, both Brantley and Huston manage this vocal feat with astonishing grace.
Contrasting Beth’s innocence is Jake’s convulsed snarl of a psyche. Alternately, he glimpses and seeks to escape his attempts to kill Love and all sources that inspire him to feel it. He exists as a pinball between his military father (dead from alcohol) and Beth, an embodiment of feminine wiles which he cannot accept his inability to possess or merge with permanently.
Jake’s savagery is actor Kevin Kaine’s highpoint of communication. The character and actor both seem caged by Jake’s acutely limited capacity to reason. The combination paints an enigmatic picture of lifelong abuse coupled with mild mental retardation. Or, as his mother, Lorraine, reasons, “Fell on his damn head the second he was born…That’s where it all started. Back there. Had nothin’ to do with his upbringing.”
Witnessing Jake damned to an eternity of howling in the pain of separation prompts his peace-maker brother, Frankie, to engage a volunteer mission: bridging the gap between hemispheres in hopes of returning from a visit to Beth’s childhood home with the only information that could ease his brother’s torture – news of Beth’s survival.
Act Two functions as an ideal portrait of the middle child. We witness Frankie’s link to rational thought cyclically over-ruled by the indomitable demands of the psychotically-wounded raging all around him. Frankie is lulled in and out of varying states of lucidity most of his life. But, in the second act, the effect is induced by a bullet hole through his thigh inflicted by Beth’s father, Baylor, from a deer hunting perch.
In one scene seemingly ripped from the headlines of current White House drama, there follows a strident debate as to who is culpable for the bullet wound - the person who squeezed the trigger or the person who placed themselves in the trajectory of the bullet. Meanwhile, for the duration of the play, Frankie bleeds on the couch.
Actor Scott Laska‘s compassionate, nuanced performance of Frankie successfully coaxes the audience’s surrender to accept what circumstance we share with him. And, suddenly, all are adrift in a life weary from sifting for what could be real inside the insanity of perpetual crisis.
Though Shepard resists providing any, it is tempting to seek respite in the curious beauty of Beth’s oracular lucidity or Jake’s clairvoyant, grief-induced vision closing Act Two. Here, we see his dreaming account of a naked Beth draped in satin under the lone silver moon as he describes the strange voice he hears echo back to him from across the night – a voice once Beth’s but now transformed by their violent intimacy and Jake’s own attack into that of his long-estranged conscience.
The respite of symbolic vision is brief as Act Three (and the entirety of the play) treats the audience to heavy hitting performances from all three actors ably triumphing in parental roles. The extraordinary joy of encountering these beastly portraits as intricate, robust people is delivered by Pam Tate, as Jake’s mother, Lorraine, and Getchie Argetsinger and Guil Fisher as Beth’s parents, Meg and Baylor.
The parental authorities in this world seek comfort from their children as respite from their own anguish one minute and treat them with no more care than they have for chickens and livestock the next. “We had to boil that one,” says Lorraine, about the family’s storied sadistic rooster. But one feels she could just as easily be speaking of one of her own litter.
Beth’s parents present a comic-tragic balance as mere cyclical hand-me-downs carrying on via stillborn channels of communication. Beth’s mother, Meg, epitomizes a classic Tennessee Williams character: the clear-minded, delicate, feminine voice driven to madness for lack of any validation of her view of the world.
Life in a house dominated by Baylor’s relentless deer hunting, traditions like mink oil foot rubs and the folding of the American flag hold precedent over dismissibles like curiosity, communication and intimacy. Getchie Argetsinger’s Meg has a voice and being that evokes the single perfect note of a triangle chimed, yielding observations spoken from an innocent capacity to perceive threat as meaningless.
Argetsinger and Fisher, both, inform each exchange with voices tragically, yet, sentimentally familiar to the ear. Their comic achievement and brilliance sparks fireworks within this couple’s propensity to call mutual torment, love.
Tate, as partner to a memory, conveys not merely a complex event of a person in Lorraine but, somehow, this actor subsumes Shepard to embody an entire world’s transition from the glory days of America’s Southwest through the suburbanizing sprinkle of trailer parks across the desert crossroads. Her Lorraine is a storm of failed perceptions steeped in ignorance so total, most call it insanity.
In the final act, she writhes in loss on Jake’s childhood bed as if it is a last vestige of protection from turning to face the long-cocooned crisis of her own being. Jake, himself, has escaped her “care” to find Frankie and the truth of Beth’s fate.
The suffocating cap on self-awareness renders tragic the final revelations of truth from the mouths of Act Three’s babes: Jake’s little sister Sally’s account of Jake “murdering” their father in an inebriated race to the death is a secret told too late for mother, Lorraine’s salvation. Beth's brother, Mike, brutally torturing Jake upon his arrival at the Montana homestead fails in its attempt to obtain the sanction or praise Mike has sought life long from papa Baylor.
A generation since its premiere, A Lie of the Mind still maps America’s political landscape with a father-son relationship that now echoes Bush I and Bush II with veiled irony. This Thriftshop production shies from blatant connections to issues of the day. But Alex Correia’s stark tableaux and steady direction subtly and unmistakably allow for the layering of each audience member’s political consciousness upon Shepard’s pointed tale.
In this way, for example, Mike’s torture of Jake - which originally read as a timely commentary on America’s military activities in Nicaragua and El Salvador circa 1985 - registers as a pertinent, unforced commentary on Abu Grahib and the like. Doug Goodenough's Mike is the kind of clean cut older brother whose hairline cracks are all worn on the surface. So, his sudden and prolonged torture of Beth's husband effectively renders him the epitome of "one of our fine men in uniform gone wrong" with a mere donning of combat fatigues.
Sally’s account of her father’s last night - offered by actor, producer and Thriftshop cofounder, Gina DeMayo – ends any inkling in Lorraine to move ahead. As if hunting for the inaccessible womb, she resolves to leave her son Jake’s bed only to track down unknown relatives of her grandmother’s people in some distant Irish hamlet.
Lorraine yearns for ''…one a’ them fierce, hot, dry winds… that wipe everything clean and leave the sky without a cloud… Pure, pure blue… Wouldn’t that be nice?'' Bereft of tools to initiate such a cleansing, Lorraine literally sets a match to all that has come before.
Claiming Sally as the sole keepsake of her life-to-date, Lorraine leaves the house that birthed half the drama of “Jake and Beth” to burn as a Phoenix’s nest. The fact that she neglects to include herself - the mother hen - as the mythic ingredient required to trigger this ritual’s liberation yields the final evidence in Shepard’s loving acknowledgement of our karmic inheritance.
The misguided hope and futility of this mother’s action serves the symbolic image of both America’s and Man’s blazing fury to evolve amidst the eternally harsh terrain of blame induced suffering. This flame is witnessed, mystically, a few states away by Beth’s mother. In a final act of maternal perception - closing the play and the miles between the two families - Meg observes this symbol of human determination, “Looks like a fire in the snow. How could that be?”
With acceptance and warmth, this cast offers psychologically decimated portrayals of the American family savaged by rigidly enforced but uninhabited ideals. Mirroring the American dream and landscape in many ways, Thriftshop’s production reverberates an echo of Langston Hughes’ anthemic poem across the barren stretch between Montana and the Western desert to the south, “America never was America to me,” and leaves its audience weak but yearning to spit back that famous assertion, “And yet I swear this oath: America will be!”
For four years Thriftshop has proved to be a company true to its namesake, combining ingeniously engaged resources and humble settings in which their audiences discover priceless gems. A Lie of the Mind proves just such a find in their earnest hands.
The play runs at Access Theatre, 380 Broadway @ White, 4th Floor
January 27–30 and February 1-5 at 8pm with a closing matinee at 2pm on
Sunday, February 5.
Theater Mania for tix
Click here to see the second DV installment of the current canvas. It represents about two week's worth of painting. (QT 2.7 MB)
To see how I arrived at this place, click here for the preceding video.
Hey, anyone out there know how I can eliminate the glare still showing on this oil slick surface? I've configured the lighting in every way possible. Suggestions?
Here is 2005 as seen from the perspective of what my acrylic palette looked like at the conclusion of each day. Click here to scroll through a towering five foot tall version.
I find it interesting how the stretches during which I was focusing on something other than painting in acrylic - working in oil, writing, traveling, laboring - attain visual prominence by virtue of repetition. Even the act of not painting can make a painting.
For a blast further in the past, here is the 2004 version.