‘A Lie of the Mind’ demands a lot of its actors


Cherise Kaechele photo

Jake (played by Alan Stogin) becomes violent with his sister, Sally, (Heidi Gerlach) as their brother, Frankie (Jason Patrick Lineback) tries to pull him away.

LA GRANDE — Eastern Oregon University’s theatre program is opening its season with an homage to late playwright Sam Shepard, directed by EOU professor April Curtis.

“He died this summer, so we thought we should do one of his favorite, most challenging works,” Curtis said.

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“A Lie of the Mind” is challenging because of its dark themes, emotional demands and highly physical movements.

“It’s a non-realistic realism, or a hyper-realism,” Curtis said of the dreamlike writing. “Things happen that don’t make much sense, but in the end they do.”

The play follows two families coping with a severe incident of domestic violence. Jake, played by Alan Stogin, has been known to get overly aggressive and lose his temper easily. This time, however, he thinks his violent outburst has killed his wife, Beth.

For much of the play, Jake struggles with the rage and paranoia that led to the beating. While his siblings want to find out if Beth is alright, Jake’s possessive mother tries to keep him under her watch in his childhood home.

Beth (played by Bryn McLaughlin) practices walking with the help of her brother, Mike (Mike Sell). Beth has suffered brain damage as the result of abuse by her husband.

Beth (played by Bryn McLaughlin) practices walking with the help of her brother, Mike (Mike Sell). Beth has suffered brain damage as the result of abuse by her husband. | Cherise Kaechele photo

Beth, played by Bryn McLaughlin, survived the attack but suffered brain damage. Her family strives to assist her, each member with their own idea of how best to do that.

Her brother, Mike, urges Beth to forget about her husband, trying to push back against the constant changes.

“There are these disruptions in the family order: first the abuse, then Beth comes home, then Frankie (Jake’s brother) shows up,” said Mike Sell, the EOU art faculty member playing Mike. “Nobody else is really concerned about the natural order.”

Sell said that feeling of being the only person who’s truly bothered by the recent turn of events leads to his character’s somewhat warped sense of justice.

Beth’s mother, on the other hand, seems especially unfazed by these disruptions.

Xiola Kegel-Grende is a senior at EOU, double-majoring in theatre arts and music. Kegel-Grende said it wasn’t easy to get into her role as Beth’s mother.

“It was difficult at the beginning because everyone but me can be loud and angry — they can shout or get physical and fight,” she said. “Meg doesn’t do that. She doesn’t once get angry or even tell someone he can’t do something. She just says she doesn’t want him to.”

Kegel-Grende said Meg is likely as adaptable as she is because of her relationship with her husband.

“She’s grown accustomed to being told ‘Stand, now sit, now undo these shoes,’” Kegel-Grende said. “Her life always changes around that. She’s never had her own life. It’s always Meg and someone else, or actually probably the other’s person’s name first and then Meg.”

Although the cast is tasked with exposing family dysfunction and rare moments of tenderness, Curtis said the actors have “taken to direction like fish to water.”

“They are so dedicated, it’s amazing,” she said.

The show, which is underscored by convincing body movements and mood-setting music, will run just one weekend in the Lyle Schwarz Theater in Loso Hall. The play starts at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 through Nov. 19 and 2 p.m. Nov. 19.

The cost is $15 for adults or $10 for military or veterans, seniors and non-EOU students. EOU students get in for free.

Not for everyone

The cast and director emphasized that the show is not for all audiences. Although “A Lie of the Mind” has been promoted as a dark comedy, it is more dark than comedy.

Sell, who said he has long been a fan of Shepard’s writing, believes there are some really funny moments, but most of the laughs come out of discomfort.

“There are some really uncomfortable, not cool moments where you kind of have to laugh,” he said.

Kegel-Grende said families that want to bring pre-teen-aged children to the show should be prepared to have a discussion ahead of time. Themes include domestic violence, manslaughter and incest.

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