The USC School of Dramatic Arts will perform Sam Shepard’s “savage masterwork” A Lie of the Mind this weekend.
The 1985 play is set in Montana, and opens with a troubling picture of protagonist Beth’s abuse at the hands of her husband, Jake. The effects of his abuse rip through both of their families and lead to an intense stand-off. Shepard blows up small-town jealousy and resentment into a four-hour deep exploration of domestic violence and mental illness with characteristic wryness and incision.
Stage manager Jessica Major, a senior majoring in theatre, spoke about her excitement for the design of the play.
“It’s a very simple set, but it’s perfect for the production,” she said.
The play centers around stark characters and bleak, unfiltered dialogue. An especially notable set piece is an illuminated moon — an important symbol in the play — built by USC students, which hangs ominously above the stage.
All of the actors and crew involved in A Lie of the Mind are students in this year’s senior BFA class. Shepard’s play was selected because the same class workshopped the play during their freshman year. Now, they have a chance to revisit the play as a cast using the skills that they have honed at the School of Dramatic Arts.
The play presents a formidable challenge to actors.
“It’s a black comedy about two families that really have no idea what’s going on,” Major said. “It’s a dark production.”
But the cast is excited to perform their capstone project. Major expressed her pride in the work that the students have put into the thematically challenging play, promising attendees many great moments of spectacular acting.
Seasoned actor and playwright Alan Freeman, a retired Occidental College professor, worked this semester as a part-time faculty member to direct A Lie of the Mind.
Major expressed that working with Freeman has been a rewarding experience for the students.
“He’s retired now, so our play is his sole focus. He’s given it everything,” Major said.
Freedman’s credentials include having served as the producing artistic director of the award-winning Occidental Theater Festival and more than 70 assorted directorships. His familiarity with the off-Broadway scene that brought up Shepard and his experience working with college students has served USC’s production of A Lie of the Mind well.
Major hopes that the play will have good attendance this weekend, since it is one of the first two productions of the fall season.
“I think everyone should come see it, even if it’s just to learn something about Montana,” she said.
USC’s run of the play began Thursday night and continues with four performances this weekend at the on-campus Scene Dock Theatre, including matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday afternoon performance will be followed by a lecture from acclaimed USC professor and resident playwright Velina Hasu Houston, who will speak about the play’s representation of gender issues as well as the stylistic links Shepard’s writing shares with the American poetry tradition.
Tickets are $5 for students, $8 for faculty and staff and $12 for general admission. Times can be found on the School of Dramatic Arts’ website.