Book Review: A Lie Of The Mind

A Lie Of The Mind, by Sam Shepard

I am seriously the most unlucky person when it comes to reviewing this play.  As might be fairly obvious, I am a frequent reader and reviewer of drama [1].  It so happens that I picked up this book to read and review yesterday from the library, and it so happens that after finishing reading the book during my lunch break at work but before writing it, I find out that the actor/playwright died today.  It is said that it is rude to speak ill of the dead, but in the interest of honesty I’m going to have to bring the hammer down on this play.  This is the sort of play that gives voice to the contempt that people from New York and Los Angeles have for the country in between.  This is a play about us by them, and it is very obvious that the author has little sympathy for the people here that he mocks and insults.  Contempt does not wear well on a playwright, as this play is not a good one largely because one can tell that the author has little or no sympathy for most of the people in the play.

This is a three act play about people in two dysfunctional families joined by the marriage of the son of one family with the daughter of another.  Jake is a troubled man who nearly beat his estranged wife, an actress unfaithful to him at least emotionally, to death out of jealousy.  His wife, Beth, is not entirely of sound mind and confuses her brother-in-law for her husband, the brother-in-law himself being stuck at the family’s house because he is shot by Beth’s father who mistakes him for a buck.  Meanwhile, Mike, Beth’s brother, is threatening harm to anyone in Jake’s family.  It’s not as if Jake’s family is any less dysfunctional, with a possessive mother who turns arsonist and a less favored daughter who Jake’s mother blames for his departure to go back to his wife, which ends in failure in Act 3.  While this is the sort of play that gives actors the chance to be emotionally expressive, there is very little that is redeeming about the play as a whole.  The most sympathetic characters here are a brain-damaged adulteress and her kind adulterous brother-in-law.  Almost everyone else here is portrayed in the most repellent way possible for a play like this.

Ultimately, this is a play that has contempt for Middle America and people of family values and rural backgrounds.  It portrays families as fostering co-dependency, and has nearly 100 pages of dialogue in which hardly anyone is listening to what anyone else is saying.  There is yelling and screaming, a house is burned down, people are shot and beat up and treated like horses, but there is precious little in the way of genuine communication.  The people in this play don’t care what anyone else thinks or feels.  They are acting out of their own neuroses, their own drives, their own longings, their own frustrations, and simply don’t care about anyone else.  The author gives very little reasons why any of us should care about the people in this play, especially when he seems to be insulting anyone who is from a background in rural America between the two coasts with the poor choice of quotes he makes about farmers and people in the country by H.L. Mencken.  If there is a lie in the mind, it is in the mind of the playwright, in this libelous portrayal of American life.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/01/book-review-fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-the-original-screenplay/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/03/20/book-review-eight-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/02/06/book-review-the-new-art-of-writing-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/30/book-review-the-cripple-of-inishmaan/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/30/book-review-the-lieutenant-of-inishmore/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/14/book-review-copenhagen/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/14/book-review-amadeus/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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