SMU Meadows “A Lie of the Mind,” a dichotomy of poignancy and absurdity

It is Thursday, Oct. 18. It is a rainy evening, but this clearly did not affect the audience turn out. Almost every seat of the theater is occupied. As the remaining stragglers scurry in, the lights dim. The show has begun.

“A Lie of the Mind” follows the story of two chaotic families that are joined by the toxic and explosive marriage of Beth (played by Zoe Kerr) and Jake (Michael Garcia). The play begins just after the tragic event that drives the remainder of the story: the near-fatal beating of Beth by her husband. This attack leaves Beth with severe brain damage and Jake suffering from bouts of frantic psychosis. The families of Beth and Jake must confront what has happened, while also dealing with unresolved issues surfacing from the past.

Kara-Lynn Vaeni is a professor of theater at SMU and was in charge of directing “A Lie of the Mind.” One of the most intriguing and captivating aspects of the play was Vaeni’s ability to physically illustrate what was going on in the mind of the troubled protagonists by incorporating minor characters that acted as the “voices” inside their heads. Jake, due to his mental instability, suffers the most from these “voices” and is constantly bullied by them throughout the play.

“I started to have this image of these ghosts sort of haunting Jake and constantly whispering in his brain, infecting him with all of the sick ways to be a man and none of the healthy ones. Like if all his stuff he played with as a kid– his cowboys and his soldiers and his playboy magazines and stuff– all came to life to haunt him when he was an adult,” Vaeni said. “And then, the play is called A LIE of the MIND, so the idea of hallucinations and haunting and how memories can be stronger than reality all started to influence how I worked on the play too.”

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"A Lie of the Mind" right side of the stage where Beth wakes up in the opening scene. Photo credit: Micah Flores

At times Beth is also at the mercy of her own mind, but in a different way than Jake. The brain damage she suffered from the beating affects her memory and her ability to speak and communicate with others. Many of her lines throughout the play are broken up or stumbled through, as she struggles to remember or to put into words what she is thinking. In the beginning, this proved challenging to actress Zoe Kerr, as she was to play Beth. Though Kerr has been doing theater in Dallas for over ten years, she had never played a role where the character battled to deliver every line.

“Playing a character like [Beth] was daunting at first,” Kerr said. “But its part of an emotional story that I think any modern woman or man can connect to it.”

Though the story is deeply troubling, it has frequent moments of comedic relief and, surprisingly, several musical numbers to help break up the drama and incorporate the satire expected from playwright Sam Shepard. “A Lie of the Mind” takes its audience members on an emotional rollercoaster, but it challenges them to think and feel more deeply in regard to the play’s disquieting content and how it translates to our world now.

Theater historian and SMU Professor Dr. Gretchen Smith describes the importance of theater and the importance of “A Lie of the Mind” as a product of it.

“Theater is messy, exciting, energetic, volatile. It is comedic, it is tragic, it is bigger than life. It is a live event. What I would say to students who want to see this is that this is a play about young people, its a play about relationships, its a play about your relationship with America as a real place and as a kind of symbolic mythic place,” Smith said. “It is a play about dysfunctional families and dysfunctional love, and we all sort of know about that, I think, on some level.”

Brimming with both poignancy and dark humor, “A Lie of the Mind” explores a depraved, but likely recognizable, version of American life when families and relationships fall apart and, sometimes, come back together again.

Remaining showtimes
Saturday, October 20, 2018 – 2:00pm
Saturday, October 20, 2018 – 8:00pm
Sunday, October 21, 2018 – 2:00pm