Magic stages Sam Shepard’s ‘Lie’ with gusto 

click to enlarge Sean San Jose is excellent as a volatile man in a volatile family in Magic Theatre's production of Sam Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind." - COURTESY JENNIFER REILEY
  • Sean San Jose is excellent as a volatile man in a volatile family in Magic Theatre's production of Sam Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind."
There’s a quiet, tender moment toward the end of Sam Shepard’s wounded-family drama “A Lie of the Mind,” now at the Magic Theatre. In the brief scene, malevolent, force-of-nature Lorraine (the wonderful Catherine Castellanos) wraps her unhappy daughter Sally (Elaina Garrity) in her arms and talks longingly about “them fierce, hot, dry winds that come from deep out in the desert and rip the trees apart.”

It’s a welcome moment of poetic relief in this relentlessly grim and sometimes darkly funny play — three hours with one intermission — directed at fever pitch by Loretta Greco.

The excellent cast is well up to the challenge of maintaining Greco’s, and, presumably, Shepard’s, intended level of intensity, enriched by an engaging duo (Nicholas Aives and Jason Cirimele) on fiddle and guitar, offstage but visible.

The play begins after the volatile, vulnerable Jake (a terrific Sean San Jose), Lorraine’s most beloved son, has beaten up his actress girlfriend, Beth, and left her for dead—he thinks.

That’s the first, but not the last “lie of the mind,” because she’s not dead, just brain-damaged from the assault, rescued by her wacko family: sweetly spacey mother (Julia McNeal), tyrannical, rage-aholic father (Robert Parsons) and loose-cannon brother (James Wagner).

Jake’s devoted brother, Frankie (Juan Amador), the closest character to normal in this two-family saga, sets off to find Beth, whom a repentant Jake pines for. The results are disastrous.

Almost every character in this violent tale, which pits men against women, parent against child and, at times, sibling against sibling, yearns for love. And every character is trapped, mentally or physically or both, in this hyper-real, Shepardesque world. Only two of the characters will – maybe – break free.

Shepard wrote the play in 1985, after his close associate, avant-garde theatermaker Joseph Chaikin, had a stroke that left him virtually without language. Shepard must have borrowed from Chaikin’s experience to create Beth, who is convinced her brain has been surgically removed and who struggles quite poignantly, as played by Jessi Campbell, to express herself, and is sometimes startlingly lucid despite seizing upon the wrong words.

Surprisingly, given that it’s written by the company’s first-ever resident playwright, this is the first time the Magic has produced “A Lie of the Mind.”

In program notes, Greco calls the work Shepard’s “female play,” and it’s gratifyingly true. Then again, all the characters, male and female, whether you love them or hate them, prove to be multidimensional.


A Lie of the Mind

Presented by the Magic Theatre

Where: Building D, Fort Mason, Marina Bouelvard and Buchanan Street, S.F.

When: Wednesdays-Sundays, closes March 22

Tickets: $20 to $60

Contact: (415) 441-8822,

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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