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vancouverplays review


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—(L-R) Ryan Beil, Daryl King, Lara Gilchrist
Photo: Stephen Malloy

by Sam Shepard
Directed by Stephen Malloy
Main Street Theatre
Little Mountain Studio
196 East 26th Ave. at Main St.
Nov. 18-Dec. 4, 7:00 PM (No shows Nov. 22 & 29)
Pay-what-you-can (suggested $15)

Main Street Equity Co-op has done it again, this time with Sam Shepard rather than David Mamet. Shepard and Mamet were the twin towers of American theatre in the 1980s and ‘90s, revealing American culture and mores, greed and neuroses in all their non-glory.  Wouldn’t it be great if the Main Street gang could give us an entire season of Shepard and Mamet rather than just one a year?  But let’s not get greedy.

Director Stephen Malloy (my colleague in Theatre at UBC) adeptly stages Shepard’s family saga in the tiny storefront at 26th and Main, configuring the space in an alley style with the action taking place between the two sides of the audience and in the two family homes at either end.  At one end is Jake (Josh Drebit), his brother (Ryan Beil), sister (Rebecca Auerbach), and mother (Barbara Pollard).  At the other, in a Montana ranch house, is Jake’s wife Beth (Lara Gilchrist), convalescing from the terrible beating he’s given her because she goes to rehearsals for plays and Jake thinks she must be doing it with all the guys. Beth is staying with her brother (Daryl King), father (Patrick Keating) and mother (Kathleen Duborg). 

The intimacy of the Little Mountain space is part of what makes these shows work so well.  The domestic scenes in Jake’s bedroom and the other family’s living room are very effective here.  But there’s an epic quality to Shepard’s play (that’s not in Mamet), which we miss in this cramped space.  I still have vivid images of Larry Lillo’s production on the Playhouse stage twenty years ago, which began his tenure as Artistic Director.  The mythic expansiveness of Shepard’s vision that was so evident there is absent here.  Otherwise, this is a stunningly good production.

A Lie of the Mind is essentially a love story, the two lovers both having to work around the lies their minds tell them: Beth because of the brain damage inflicted on her by the man she loves, Jake because of what he’s done to the woman he adores (he thinks he’s killed her).  The performances here are remarkable, both in their internalized anguish and their intense physicalization.  Drebit plays Jake as an explosive chunk of rage and confusion; Gilchrist offers an astonishing embodiment of a woman struggling through terror, pain and emotional scar tissue.  Beth occupies the thematic centre of the play and Gilchrist absolutely makes this her show in the face of some pretty remarkable performances.

The parents in Shepard’s family plays tend to be total wack-jobs, and the three in Lie are no exception. Full credit to Pollard, Keating and Duborg for capturing the almost surreal extremity of their characters while grounding them in convincing psychological realism.  All three are also very funny.  The brothers and sisters are more moderate characters and tend to act as mediators, leaving them less dramatically interesting.  King, Auerbach and Beil nevertheless give them full value.  I love the fact that Ryan Beil, one of the real stars of Vancouver theatre, takes such a secondary role here (and of course plays it with complete conviction).  The ensemble’s the thing for the Main Street Co-op.

Malloy marks scene changes with some very cool country music, and live music is performed at every intermission.  The theatre is very cold, so dress warm and maybe bring a blanket.  It’s worth a little bit of suffering to see one of the best shows of the year.

Jerry Wasserman