Theatre Vertigo at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, 306-0870, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, through July 2, $13-15
Love. Hate. Sex. Violence. Familiar enough themes to anyone with a pulse, they're explored with relish in Theatre Vertigo's production of Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind. The play opens on a darkened stage, with a phone call between two brothers: Jake (Todd Van Voris) needs help from Frankie (Tom Moorman) after beating his wife so badly that he thinks he's killed her. It turns out his wife, Beth (Julie Starbird), is not actually dead--but Jake's beating has left her brain-damaged. Both Beth and Jake return to their childhood homes, Beth to recover from her injuries, and Jake to brood over the murder he believes he has committed. Enter some pretty disturbed parents and three well-intentioned siblings, and you have a framework with which to explore love's endlessly fucked-up permutations.
The plot leans on Jake's belief that Beth is dead and Frankie's desire to prove otherwise; meanwhile, over in Beth's world, her brother Mike (Neil Starbird) tries to protect and care for her. The familial juxtaposition allows Vertigo's cast to explore and contrast several types of relationships, all more or less dysfunctional. Sam Shepard seems to subscribe to the belief that capital "T" truths can't be attained via intellectual analysis; to that end, Beth's brain damage has conveniently left her with a somewhat annoying tendency to make cryptic, weighty, and grammatically incorrect pronouncements about the nature of love. Love, here, is dangerous, and easily perverted.
Vertigo's cast, as per usual, has impressive chemistry. In particular, April Magnusson and Camille Cettina give nuanced performances as Jake and Beth's two very different, though similarly put-upon, mothers, while Chris Porter steals every scene he's in with an oddly endearing performance as the redneck dad who goes hunting to avoid speaking to his wife. Pete Bogh's music, too, is noteworthy: eerie and appropriate, fleshing out the minimal set and heightening the emotional impact of each scene. Clocking in at over two hours, the piece never drags; instead, it's consistently entertaining and thought-provoking, due largely to solid, intelligent performances that all but demand audience engagement.