Theatre review: A Lie of the Mind

Posted: August 13, 2011 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

 

The dysfunctional family dissected.

 

If the world is a giant bowl of soup, and the two families in this play are scooped up with the first spoonful, we should start praying that they are not a microcosm of society’s current psyche.

 

Two American families tear themselves and each other apart in this dark comedy-drama about dysfunctional relationships and broken people.  Jake (Adrian Collins) beats his wife Beth (Mikkie-Dene le Roux) to a pulp and into brain damage. Jake, his own sanity hanging by a thread, believes that he has killed her and throughout the play he plummets like a kamikaze pilot into madness fuelled by his unhealthy childhood, fits of jealousy, longing for his wife and guilt.  However, it is a bit difficult to tell if he was not already insane from the very start.  His mother, played brilliantly by Kate Liquorish, reminisce at the start of the play that he was always a busy and somewhat otherwise child; he slipped through the doctor’s hands after his birth and ended up head first onto the floor.

 

As Jake and Beth’s families find out about the incident, we are introduced to their psychotic world filled with denial, mental illness, abuse and brutality. Beth goes to stay at her parents’ house to recover but her trigger-happy dad, and brow-beaten and broken mother, aggravate her illness with their manipulating games and hatred.  Frankie, Wilhelm van der Walt, is Jake’s brother and one of the few semi-sane characters, goes to see how Beth is healing and her father shoots him in the leg; claiming that he thought it was a deer.  The two families draw their lines in the sand and the battle of the village idiots begin.

 

However, it would be too simplistic to write them off as trailer trash hillbillies.  The two families’ behaviour scratches at the underlying pathology that is part of the human condition. It is exaggerated and exploded to its ugliest and extreme form. In a South African context the play, at times, reminded me of Marlene van Niekerk’s Triomf.  Although set in two different continents, both stories explore how the influences of culture, war or conflict, the past, the economy, and incest may have on the individual, which in turn infects or affects the family; which in turn has the potential to create a dysfunctional society.

 

The actors’ performances are equally and appropriately explosive.  Adrian Collins, as the psychotic Jake, is truly and utterly frightening and horrific.  He has manic fits and the treats his fellow actors to cruel psychological manipulation that will make Hannibal Lecter take notes.  Yet, he manages every so often to allow a heartbreaking glimpse into the shattered soul of the frightened and abused little boy inside of him; reminding us that he once too was beautiful and innocent.

 

Mikkie-Dene le Roux has the unenviable task of playing a brain-damaged woman with a speech deficiency and she has to do her stutters and muttering with an American accent!  She pulls it off well. Her character, Beth, has moments of clarity which slices through the thick and absurd atmosphere of madness surrounding her.

 

Kate Liquorish and Tinarie van Wyk Loots, as the two mothers, both deliver exact and thrilling performances. Liquorish is Jake’s mom, we suspect strongly she loves him a lot more than just as her son, really is the embodiment of trailer trash. Throughout the evening she loses her shoe, her hair unravels together with her nerves and she flips insanely through denial, hysteria, betrayal and abandonment.   Van Wyk Loots as Beth’s mom represents the defeated woman. Her shoulders are slumped; her bullying, sexist husband has won. She has chosen denial as her self-defense to such degree that she believes she used to be locked up in a sanatorium and she has forgotten that her daughter was married to Jake. She looks at Frankie, Jake’s brother, dying on the couch, without really seeing him. Van Wyk Loots beautifully underplays her role with sensitivity and understanding. 

 

Scott Sparrow and Wilhelm van der Walt as the two sparring brothers from different families each bring to their individual performances energy and persuasion.  Their characters explore the relationship between father and son and the rivalry of love.  Mike, Sparrow, tries to win the approval of his father by shooting anything that moves and acts out the protective older brother to his brain-damaged sister. His intentions are good but his actions don’t seem to correlate with this. 

 

Nandi Horak as Jake’s sister delivers a thrilling monologue in the second act as she relays the horrific death of her and Jake’s father, in which Jake played a major role. The father’s death is a bizarre, absurd, ugly and ultimately tragic affair.

 

The stage and lighting design allow the character to move with ease in and out of their scenes as the action moves from hospital, to Jake’s room, to the Beth’s family home.

 

This play is not going to make for a light evening’s entertainment. There is a lot of comedy, but it is very dark, and the dirty secrets, and shattered stories of battered people come at you at a relentless pace.  However I found it mesmerising and the acting engaging.  Perhaps it is so shocking because it is like staring at a mirror image of ourselves and it is so much easier to slip into denial than to confront the truth – this is a certainty.   Although I sincerely hope that no-one else has such a complete set of totally dysfunctional family members, I am sure that anyone who is a brother, sister, mother or father, will find something to engage with in this performance.

 

A Lie of the Mind is playing in repertory with The Real Inspector Hound.

*Tickets are R80 and can be booked at www.computicket.co.za. Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Luke Ellenbogen.  Starring Mikkie-Dene le Roux, Adrian Collins, Langley Kirkwood, Tinarie van wyk Loots, Scott Sparrow, Kate Liquorish, Nandi Horak and Wilhelm van der Walt. Costume co-ordinator Tinarie van Wyk Loots. Wardrobe by Leigh Bishop and Farieda Esau. Set construction by Keith Christian, Mark Miller and Steven Jacobs. Lighting design Luke Ellenbogen. At The Little Theatre, until 30 July at 20h00. ASTRID STARK reviews

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