Shepard play brought to life by a couple who are husband and wife both onstage and off
Love is impatient. Love is not always kind. Love is often jealous, and is a lot more complicated than it used to be. At least that's the kind of love that Capital T Theatre explores in Sam Shepard's "Lie of the Mind," which opens tonight and plays through June 4 at Salvage Vanguard.
Like so much of the heightened reality of theater, however, the kind of love we see on stage can be deceptive. Played by a real-life married couple, Travis and Melanie Dean, Baylor and Meg are the parents of Beth, a battered woman whose beating begins the play. Her parents are the kind of couple that makes us cringe (and occasionally crack up) on modern stages — a misogynistic patriarch and his servile (and a bit dotty) wife.
Given the demands of this complicated and ambiguous play, director Mark Pickell knew he needed a solid cast to make it work. So he asked the Deans if they'd be interested and went from there. And though the chemistry of genuine love definitely translates onto the stage, especially in a scene where Meg has to rub mink oil on Baylor's feet, that's as far as the similarities extend. Married for more than 30 years now, Travis and Melanie Dean are one of the sweetest couples you're likely to meet. You'll probably catch them clasping hands outside rehearsal, see Travis holding doors for Melanie, or hear them collectively remember each other's past.
Despite the disparity in the two relationships, the Deans say they are thrilled to be working together. "Lie of the Mind" is only the fourth time in nearly 30 years of working in Austin theaters that they've been able to perform as husband and wife.
With a well-balanced ensemble, "Lie of the Mind" is an actor's play — everybody has their moment onstage, and Pickell has wrangled some of Austin's favorite faces. Jake, the violent and emotional soul who may or may not have beaten the life out of his wife, is played by the inimitable Kenneth Wayne Bradley. The versatile and industrious Joey Hood plays Jake's brother, Frankie, desperately trying to find out the truth about Beth. Liz Fisher, Rebecca Robinson, Karen Jambon and Pickell himself round out the company.
A more intimate family saga than "August: Osage County," Shepard's 1980s epic is similar in scope. The play opens on a full moon and a battered woman, and though the violence in the play happens behind the scenes, the familial aftermath is laid bare before us — with musical accompaniment.
Shepard wrote the play with a bluegrass band in mind, thinking that "Lie of the Mind" needed live music with an American backbone. Capital T's production delivers, with an original score composed and performed by local musician Jerry Hagins.
Obsessed with the uniquely American concept of the "West," Shepard's plays explore life on the frontier, not so much in the geographic sense, but in the lawlessness and moral ambiguity of life on the outskirts. Aside from Beth's brother Mike, no one seems to think of Jake as a criminal, but everyone seems willing to take matters into their own hands.
While the action of the play starts with domestic abuse, "Lie of the Mind" is driven by the familial ties that bind and the complexity of love – the ways that the ones we love can damage us the most, that we can love and hate in the same moment.
'A Lie of the Mind'
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through June 4
Where: Salvage Vanguard, 2803 Manor Road