“Ordinary is empty.”
In Sam Shepard’s play “A Lie of the Mind,” Beth thinks playing pretend is better than being real, and uses this quote to tell her family so.
Beth is one of eight ensemble roles in this show, which is the Binghamton University theatre department’s first Mainstage production of the semester.
Set in the snowy, mid-century Midwestern United States, “A Lie of the Mind” follows the entangled lives of two families connected by the strained marriage of Beth, played by Danielle Nigro, a senior majoring in theatre, and her abusive husband, Jake, played by Jeff Tagliaferro, also a senior majoring in theatre.
The play, performed in three acts, uses rock ‘n’ roll and alternative music to string together scenes of the lovers’ families, which are struggling with Jake’s declining mental health and Beth’s worsening brain damage as a result of him attacking her, respectively.
The audience is thrust into a whirlwind of emotion from the first moment of the production when Jake tells his brother Frankie, played by Trey Santiago, a junior majoring in theatre, that he thinks he killed his wife.
The Mainstage show, directed by theatre professor Anne Brady, will be the first Shepard play staged at Binghamton University in the last two decades. Brady said she brought the play to the department because of Shepard’s prominence as a playwright.
“I think that it’s important that we do all different kinds of playwrights, and Sam Shepard is a great American playwright,” Brady said. “A classic American playwright, I would say.”
Shepard first directed “A Lie of the Mind” off-Broadway in 1985 and the production won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. Since its debut, the play has been a staple in theaters across the country due to its complicated and emotive ensemble of characters, according to Brady.
“[‘A Lie of the Mind’] offers eight actors really juicy roles and opportunities to challenge themselves,” Brady said.
In a play with such long, passionate scenes, it’s vital for this ensemble of actors to work cohesively together, explained Marisa Cartusciello, who plays Jake’s sister, Sally.
“Luckily, we are all friends and we want each other to succeed,” said Cartusciello, a junior majoring in theatre. “We all encouraged each other to do the best work to make sure we all felt comfortable and safe.”
Some of the difficult moments Cartusciello is referencing include fights between loved ones that test the strength of the two families. Brady explained that many of these complicated plot points and relationships are drawn from Shepard’s life.
Frankie and Jake are brothers who share a close bond, but seem quite different. Brady says that these two characters may represent the different sides of the playwright himself.
While themes of love and loss are woven throughout the play, gender roles are also examined. Characters argue over the roles of husbands and wives, and what it means to be masculine and feminine. It is through this questioning that we learn about the dynamics of these families.
“There’s humor, there’s love, there’s longing, there’s heartache, there’s joy,” Brady said. “It offers a lot for actors and for an audience to be part of.”
“A Lie of the Mind” will run in Watters Theater of the Anderson Center on Friday, Saturday, March 10 and March 11 at 8 p.m., as well as March 12 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for the public and $10 for students, and are available at the box office and online.