On this date just two months ago, the creative force that was Sam Shepard slipped away from this earthly realm after a quiet but grueling battle with ALS.

It feels fitting, not to mention profound, to be able to bid a personal farewell to the dark genius who so frequently caused audiences to squirm in their seats as he unmasked them, on one level or another, by attending the opening night performance of one of his works.

His poetic explorations of family dynamics and the absurdities of our humanness are raw, cynical and honest to their core.

"A Lie of the Mind," which opened Wednesday in ISU's Center for Performing Arts, explores the tattered threads of two families, bound by marriage, struggling to survive the incomprehensible.

As the play opens, we learn that Jake, a man prone to fits of jealous rage, has beaten his wife, Beth, within an inch of her life. She survives, but is left with irreparable brain damage, leaving her family with responsibilities they are not equipped to face.

A distraught Jake believes that he has gone too far, and that Beth, an actress, is dead. He explains to his sensitive brother Frankie that he "didn't even see this one coming," that something just "snapped."

As we meet the families, we can start to see just where the seeds of sorrow were most likely planted. Jake, Frankie and their sister Sally have survived an upbringing at the hands of an absent (and now deceased) father and a narcissistic, violent mother.

Beth, who loves Jake despite his monstrous tendencies, endures a gun-toting bully of a father, a childlike, nonsensical mother and a volcanic brother out to prove his manhood to the world.

Did any of these progeny ever have a chance?

This powerful production, directed with insight and much-needed humor by Lori Adams, is both visually and emotionally stunning, reflecting a tightly knit production team that includes set designers John Stark and Nick Kilgore, and lighting designer Kayla Brown.

Their masterful efforts provide the perfect environment in which the talented ensemble can thrive, and thrive they did.

Parker Carbine is Jake, a man who unravels before our eyes. Abigail Langner is terrifying as his smothering mother, Lorraine. Elena Sasso shines as Beth's mother, Meg, and Dylan DeWitt hits his mark as her husband, Baylor.

Raul Marron is passionate in his portrayal of Beth's brother, Mike; Everson Blade Pierce is heartbreaking as Jake's sensitive brother, Frankie; and Betsy Diller is their long-suffering sister, Sally.

Gina Sanfillipo, as Beth, holds the heartstrings in this production, and tugs away consistently and beautifully throughout her performance. She meets the emotional and physical challenges of her character seamlessly, invoking in her audience a deep sympathy for which they rewarded her with thunderous applause.

With such a short run (the last performance is Sunday), it may be difficult to get this on your calendars, but I urge you to try ... this one should not be missed.

Stiller is a freelance writer who reviews plays for The Pantagraph.


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