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'Lie' Has the Ring of Truth to It : Theater review: A no-frills production of the Sam Shepard drama in Fullerton reveals its basic humanity.

August 30, 1995|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — Sam Shepard may be the ultimate example of that group of '60s and '70s playwrights who saw life through a glass cracked and smeared with offal. Their art was rhyparography, defined in Webster's Unabridged as the "painted or literary depiction of mean or sordid subjects."

When Shepard is at his most honest, his plays are at their finest. Later in his career as a writer, his overindulgence, while still noticeable, got less in the way of the truth of his statements. A good example is his "A Lie of the Mind," at the Tribune Theatre.

While still fascinated with bringing bloody carcasses on stage, and the silly shtick of having one of his leading characters spend most of the play in his underwear with an American flag draped around his neck, Shepard has a moving tale to tell.

Early productions of this 1985 play, with big budgets and fancy trappings, tended to mask the play's faults along with its advantages. In this production, on a limited budget and with few fancy trimmings, the bare play is more clearly seen, its flaws and its strengths are easier to balance, and Shepard's basic humanism becomes more evident.

It's a tale of ultimate abuse, a wife beaten to the point of madness, the husband's emotional self-abuse and moral collapse following a lifetime of mistreatment by a super-macho father and a mother who is as much a simpleton as she is destructive to those around her.

Director Steve Spehar, who also plays Jake, the flag-draped loser, understands Shepard very well and finds in the heart and soul of his writing his own insights and dramatic possibilities.

If, as an actor, Spehar had had another director, his performance might have been richer, but as it is, his Jake is frightening by his apparent normalcy, and tragic through his own knowledge of his great flaws.

Steven Lamprinos also is very strong as Jake's gullible younger brother, Frankie, with his desperate need to correct his brother's mistakes. As Jake's sister Sally, Jennifer Bishton has a fine edge of anger at her family's inability to cope, and a sad willingness to accept that inability. Carol Antonow, who plays their mother, Lorraine, doesn't seem to be willing to make this trashy, empty bimbo as nasty as she should be, backing off into moments of pleasant niceness that ring false.

Jake's wife, Beth, is given one of the production's better performances by Martina Paris, in a difficult and multilayered role that veers from the oblivion of brain-damaged darkness to slight glimmers of recovered normalcy and back to lunacy.

Howard Patterson and Louise Tonti are often funny and have the insight to be totally opaque as her uncomprehending parents, and Nicholas E. Boicourt Jr., as Beth's brother, Mike, gives simmering power to his understanding and volatile reading.

The production introduces the Tribune's audiences to comfortable new seats and welcome air conditioning and is given an authentic framework with original and fresh introductory and incidental music by Chris Dalu and his Token Oakies. The performance reviewed was flawed by lighting operator M. Koelber's apparent interest in something other than the dramatic requirements of the action on the stage.

* "A Lie of the Mind," Tribune Theatre, 116 1/2 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 17. $7. (714) 525-3403. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Steve Spehar: Jake

Martina Paris: Beth

Steven Lamprinos: Frankie

Nicholas E. Boicourt Jr.: Mike

Carol Antonow: Lorraine

Jennifer Bishton: Sally

Louise Tonti: Meg

Howard Patterson: Baylor

A Revolving Door Productions presentation of Sam Shepard's drama, produced by Bradley A. Whitfield. Direction & scenic/lighting design: Steve Spehar. Costume design: Lisa Gonzalez. Sound design: Chris Dalu.

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