Americana, painfully

Pain isn’t just an emotion in this Dramat production — it’s expressed physically, violently, as well.

Flannel, rifles and other assorted Americana (a flag as a cape, a mounted deer’s head) appear throughout the Yale Dramatic 
Association’s fall 2012 production of Sam Shepard’s tale of woe and psychological trauma in the late twentieth-century United States. The man loves his country, the way we love our families, even when that love takes us in tragic directions.

“A Lie of the Mind,” the second of the Dramat’s Fall Exes, tells the story of two Western families coping with the aftermath of domestic abuse. After years of marital disputes, husband Jake (James Dieffenbach ’13) leaves his wife Beth (Bonnie Antosh ’13), who he believes was unfaithful, for dead, and tries to cope with life without her. Beth’s family collects her from the hospital and must deal with their own personal demons while attempting to help their daughter recover.

The script doesn’t lend itself to easy adaptation — it’s basically a play that tries to communicate how hard it is for two families to communicate with themselves — but the sensitive direction of Kate Heaney ’14 made such serious issues easier to digest. At times, the scenes drag and feel overly depressing, but the premise isn’t one that would easily lead to rainbows or happy endings.

Antosh’s performance is scary. Not scary as in horrible — scary as in awfully, breathtakingly good. Antosh takes the role of a brain-damaged and beaten woman — a role that could easily be over- or under-played to disaster — and made it both physically believable and emotionally convincing. She screams, mumbles, and suffers on stage. And whenever she’s on, everything else on the set seems irrelevant.

The rest of the cast held their own, with Jacob Osborne ’16 as a convincing patriarch and the welcome comic relief in a show with scene after scene of dysfunctional family history, disappointment, and old memories.

The cast collectively put on southern accents, which at times were a bit distracting from the scene due to their large variety. The story is very dialogue based; the biggest event — Jake’s beating of Beth — takes place before the play begins, but inventive light direction and an interactive set help make up for this lack of direct action.

All in all, the lighting design of Shannon Csorny ’15 is ambitious but coherent: lights alternately guide the audience’s attention, set the mood and give cast and crew time to transition between scenes.

The lighting introduces layers to the set, literally breaking down the stage into two sections. Stage left, we have Jake’s family and, stage right, Beth’s home.

The set consists of two walls constructed from large, hanging photographs of snowy cabins, trucks, and family portraits – which feature the actual cast – and which are enhanced by frequent lighting changes. Whenever a cast member begins discussing something from the past, the photograph dealing with that particular set of circumstances lights up. This adds to the production’s portrayal of the effects memories and family identity have on us. The lives these characters had before we meet them are literally illustrated with these images, extending the play into an imagined past.

In addition to the expert lighting, two cellists play throughout the show’s transitions. I’m mixed on their contribution. Though they added to the atmosphere, the musicians did not seem to contribute to the story’s arch. To my mind, I associated their theatricality with Hollywood blockbusters like Black Swan and Harry Potter.

Within the Dramat’s fall lineup, “A Lie of the Mind” is a break from the more light-hearted and cheery fare on offer this season. In less than three hours, it presents a rugged look into the degeneration of the American home and country.

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