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A CurtainUp London Review
A Lie of the Mind
By Lizzie Loveridge
One family is from southern California, one from the forests of Montana. They are linked by a marriage that both families dismiss or conveniently forget. Both families are poor whites. There is so much very dark humour that the British audience was almost afraid to laugh, as if it were politically incorrect to find Shepard's acerbity amusing.
The volatile Jake (Andy Serkis) is in a hotel room calling his more stable brother, Frankie (Peter McDonald) for help. Jake is convinced that he has murdered his wife, Beth (Catherine McCormack). Beth has in fact sustained brain damage as a result of his beating her and is in hospital with her brother Mike (Andrew Tiernan). We are introduced to the family members: Jake and Frankie's chain smoking, bizarrely controlling mother, Lorraine (Sinead Cusack) and their sister, Sally (Nicola Walker). . . Baylor (Keith Bartlett), rifle carrying woodsman from the northwest and his twittering wife, Meg (Anna Calder-Marshall).
When Frankie goes to see Beth and is accidentally shot he is brought into the Montana family home. The men in that home are less than welcoming.
Shepard's characters, while recognisable, are parodies of the variety of human life found in the vastness of the United States. At first it seems as if it is just Jake who is out of control. But as we get to know his possessive mother we start to appreciate what might have damaged him and see that this is something of a Greek tragedy. The families mirror each othe. Both Beth and Jake are damaged and each has a caring brother. The antics of the mountain folk,who kill deer although they hate to eat venison prompt laughter but before long Shepard's play descends into tragic farce.
The performances are good although occasionally the British cast's accents waver. Catherine McCormack's as Beth has the most difficult role, her brain injury demanding that she speak haltingly but with great insight. Andy Serkis' manic Jake is most impressive and Anna Calder-Marshall is delightfully eccentric as she tells tales of her quirky relatives. Keith Bartlett too is believable as the father who shoots first and asks questions later but is facing the prospect of his old age. Sinead Cusack's mentally fixated "white trash" mother dreams of a return to her roots in Ireland where she imagines life will be better having lost her husband and her sons.
Wilson Milam's direction makes for a fast-paced three hours, with two sets at either side of the stage allowing the scenes to move forward with barely a pauses. When Jake throws broccoli soup at his mother (Shepard has a penchant for food fights)e, it remarkably did not splatter the audience in the tiny Donmar, but we could all smell it. Country music adds to the atmosphere. Overall, the fluidity of language and metaphor and the blend of pathos and comedy provide much to appreciate.