Families take center stage in ‘A Lie of the Mind’
Theatre Department to present classic Sam Shepard play.
Laughter and pain. Love and heartache. Memorable family ties.
All are hallmarks of the man that Theatre Professor Anne Brady calls “a classic American playwright”: Sam Shepard.
“He’s got amazing characters and terrific language,” Brady said. “The relationships between the characters are clearly drawn. He deals with American issues: What is the American male? What is it to be female? How do we fit into these stereotypes and work against them?”
While his works have been performed in student productions at Binghamton University, a Shepard play has not been part of the Theatre Department’s Mainstage Season for the past two decades, Brady said. That will change on Feb. 24, when the Brady-directed “A Lie of the Mind” opens at Watters Theater. The show takes place at 8 p.m. Feb. 24-25 and March 10-11, and at 2 p.m. March 12. Tickets are: $18, general; $16, alumni/faculty/senior/staff; $10, students ($5 for students on opening night).
First staged in December 1985, “A Lie of the Mind” tells the story of two families on a journey toward healing after an act of domestic violence. The families – Lorraine (Stephanie Herlihy), Jake (Jeff Tagliaferro), Frankie (Trey Santiago) and Sally (Marisa Cartusciello), and Baylor (Tom Mackin), Meg (Stephanie Moreno), Beth (Danielle Nigro) and Mike (Eric Berger) are linked by the marriage of Jake and Beth. The play begins after Beth suffers brain damage at the hand of Jake and each family retreats to its home.
Last seen onstage singing and dancing with Nigro in “Bells are Ringing,” Tagliaferro said Jake is dealing with “pure heartache” and is trying to rebuild his connections.
“He has lost people important to him in the past,” the senior said. “He’s tried to put that behind him and move forward. Throughout the play, everything starts coming back to him. He has to try to find peace at some point.
“Nobody likes to be vulnerable, but there are certain times in your life in which you need to open up and allow things to affect you deeply. It’s a struggle, but it’s a struggle that I think a lot of people can understand deeply.”
As Jake’s overprotective mother Lorraine, senior Stephanie Herlihy said her character is also “fighting an immense amount of heartbreak.”
“Lorraine is constantly dealing with the past affecting where she is in the present,” said Herlihy, who starred in the Mainstage production of “Dancing at Lughnasa” last spring. “Lorraine is lonely, but now she has the opportunity to have her son back. Jake is her boy – and he’s close to her heart.”
Tagliaferro, Herlihy and Trey Santiago (who plays Frankie: “the glue that keeps his family together”) all agreed that it was initially difficult to dive into the intensity of Shepard’s world.
“When I read a play, I have no idea of what the character is going to be like and how I want to play him,” said Santiago, a junior who starred in the Mainstage production of “The Motherf***er with the Hat” last fall. “I read this play and had no idea how the character was supposed to be played. I would read it one way and say ‘no.’ I would read it another way and say ‘no.’ This is by far the most challenging thing I have been a part of.”
Tagliaferro called Jake the “toughest and meatiest” role he has had.
“Shepard writes such human characters,” he said. “When you read through a play two or three times, you usually have an idea of what the character is working for, what they want and what their struggles are. In this play, things are constantly changing with Jake. Much like in life, it’s never that clear cut of what you want and how you are going to get it. We’ve been working on the play for five weeks and new things just keep coming up. That makes it both a challenge and a joy to work on.”
The depth of the Shepard’s writing attracted Herlihy to “A Lie of the Mind.”
“It is a challenge and a privilege to push yourself further and further,” she said. “You try to experience how these families work together and how intertwined you become with the people you surround yourself with.”
At the heart of “A Lie of the Mind” is “correction and healing,” Brady said, as Shepard raises family issues that many people can relate to.
“All of us would like to have the Norman Rockwell family,” she said. “I just think it’s true. Although we may strive toward that, what Sam Shepard does is take what we push down underneath and – POW! He puts it on the surface so we can actually have that experience.”
Tagliaferro agreed, adding that Shepard allows conflicts to be faced head-on.
“In society, we’re not bred to create conflict – whether it’s with family, friends or strangers,” he said. “We swallow it and say: ‘OK, I’ll deal with that later.’ In most plays, especially Sam Shepard plays, that’s where the life and beauty comes from. It’s that journey through heartache and pain in each of these characters that creates such a human experience onstage.”
The audience will take that journey with an experienced student cast that Brady said “takes acting to heart” and is “open and willing to shift, change and take risks.”
“What I love about the cast is that they care,” Brady said. “There is no lead. It is a big ensemble – eight characters. I value what they bring to the table and we go back and forth together. If they care and I care, what can’t we accomplish together?