AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Sam Shepard
Directed by Loretta Greco
Presented by and at Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco / (415) 441-8822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Domestic violence is the catalyst for Sam Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind," staged by the Magic Theatre.

The perpetrator is the volatile, paranoid Jake (Sean San Jose), who believes he has killed his wife, Beth (Jessi Campbell). No, she hasn't died, but she's been badly brain damaged.

Both wind up in the care of their brothers and then their families, where the seeds of their combative relationship were sown. Beth's brother, Mike (James Wagner), is initially solicitous of Beth as he tries to help her recover, but he has his unsympathetic side, too. In that respect, he takes after their father, Baylor (Robert Parsons), who disregards the feelings of others and treats his wife, the sweet-tempered Meg (Julia McNeal), like a servant.

Jake's brother, Frankie (Juan Amador), is a basically good guy though none too bright. Their mother, Lorraine (Catherine Castellanos), is protective of Jake, essentially denying that he could have done anything wrong. However, their sister, Sally (Elaina Garrity), sees things clearly.

Running about three hours with one intermission, the play explores family relationships and the way that people often don't listen to one another. However, it would be a mistake for the audience not to listen, because each scene is loaded with emotional information about the characters and their motivations as well as their relationships with the others.

The program notes say that this is one of Shepard's more feminist plays. It certainly seems so because each of the four women eventually forges some kind of new future for herself.

As directed by artistic director Loretta Greco, some scenes might benefit from different pacing, but overall the play moves inevitably along. Except for Amador as Frankie, who tends to overact, the acting is outstanding. San Jose is downright scary as Jake, while Campbell skillfully portrays Beth's frailties as well as the insights she articulates despite and because of her brain injury.

Robert Brill's raked, wood plank set is sparsely furnished, allowing quick transitions between scenes. Seated off to one side are Nicholas Aives and Jason Cirimele, who composed and play mood-setting music.

Lighting by Burke Brown, sound by Sara Huddleston and costumes by Alex Jaeger enhance the production.

Shepard was the Magic's resident playwright for more than 10 years and premiered seven of his plays there. However, this is the first time that it has staged the 1985 "A Lie of the Mind." American Conservatory Theater presented it in 1987.

It's a challenging play for both actors and audiences, but it has its intellectual and emotional rewards.

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