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Sam Shepard’s drama “A Lie of the Mind” is a brutal theatrical piece that gnaws and grates across one’s psyche and soul, mercilessly attacking conscience, emotions and spirit.

It's not a pleasant play, but it is a play that makes the observer squirm and struggle with those deep thoughts that we all have and our hidden secrets that we hope none will ever discover.

Mounted in Nebraska Wesleyan’s black box Miller Theatre, the 2 1/2-hour production focuses on two families — separated in distance, but merged in behavior and attitude. The play opens with Jake (Jame Booker III) seeking assistance from his brother Frankie (Chandler Boyte) because he thinks he's beaten his wife Beth (Kacey Rose) to death.

In truth, Beth is alive, but was severely injured and has brain damage. She returns to family in Montana to recover, while Jake — fluctuating between catatonia and violent outbursts — seeks refuge with his family in California.

What Shepard’s play most skillfully and methodically explores in scenes that juxtapose between the families is how the two sets of individuals and the familial identities are mirrored reflections, echoing the dysfunction, dehumanization and dominance possessed and practiced by both.

Booker displays a hulking, unbridled intensity in his portrayal of Jake. His concentration and depth of execution is quite laudable. Meanwhile, Rose’s Beth is simply splendid in conveying her confused and bewildered state of mind with a conviction, as well as nimble tongue, that is impressive.

Strong support is provided by Boyte, along with Jess Hrbek as Sally, Jake’s sister, and Kevin Snyder as Mike, Beth’s brother. As Lorraine — Jake’s mother — Aly Faber’s effort is a times hampered by her rather hushed delivery of her lines. The words in a Shepard play are important and need to be heard.

A few technical issues plagued the production Friday, although they were ones that should be easily corrected. What is a little more distracting are the numerous set changes in the first two acts.

“A Lie of the Mind” is pretty hefty material for college students, but Jack Parkhurst’s Wesleyan troupe does a pretty darn good job. And everyone needs some Sam Shepard to rattle their cages … and their self security.


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