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Theater review: 'A Lie of the Mind' by Studio Five Productions

November 26, 2009 | 12:32 pm

400.LOTM Jake-Mike 2-1 Sam Shepard's three-act, three-hour "A Lie of the Mind" restlessly roams the human condition, mapping out ways in which people function in families, in romantic relationships and in the world. It's an enormously difficult play, all the more so because it is conveyed in a complex mixture of tones: naturalistic, symbolic, poetic and just plain avant-garde.

What sheer audacity, then, for the new Studio Five Productions to launch itself with this piece. But these folks seem pretty savvy. For starters, they secured John Langs, the director of such arresting presentations as Circle X's "Eurydice" and "Battle Hymn," to stage the production -- and it's a knockout.

The set, by Dwayne Burgess, is built of America's old junk -- an evocative context for the West (read: U.S.) that Shepard deconstructs in his 1985 play.

Jake (Lance Kramer, hollow-eyed and zombie-like) is on the run after savagely beating his wife. Brain-damaged Beth (Natalie Avital, in a luminous performance) now speaks in fragments, sometimes using the wrong words, yet every utterance is pure, heartfelt poetry.

Upon learning what's happened, Jake's and Beth's families, never close, shut their borders to each other.  Clearly readable as archetypes, these characters would seem two-dimensional if Shepard hadn't invested them with such churning, contradictory emotions. PJ Marshall, John Combs, Jennifer Toffel and Logan Fahey are letter-perfect, with Casey Kramer and Maury Morgan particularly fine as, respectively, Jake's brusque mother and careworn sister, who try to coax him out of his post-meltdown shutdown.

In a small but telling moment of Langs' staging, Beth rouses suddenly, as if hearing someone call to her. Many states away, Jake does the same. Love and lies persist, person to person, generation to generation. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

-- Daryl H. Miller

"A Lie of the Mind," Studio Five Productions at Studio/Stage Theatre, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 19. $20. (888) 534-6001 or Running time: 3 hours.

Photo: Lance Kramer, left, and PJ Marshall in Studio Five Productions' "A Lie of the Mind." Credit: George Kim / Studio Five Productions