I was fortunate to see the original production of Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind at the Promenade Theatre in New York. When I first moved here, Shepard and David Mamet and Lanford Wilson were turning the NYC theatre world upside down. Shepard was phenomenally prolific, turning out Curse of the Starving Class, Buried Child, True West, Fool for Love, and A Lie of the Mind within the short space of seven years. You could not be in an acting class without some acting couple taking on a scene from one of these plays.
I remember A Lie of the Mind particularly. I would easily risk being late on rent and spend part of my rent money on a theatre ticket. Going to the theatre was like breathing to me. When Lie was produced it was a dream cast – Harvey Keitel, Amanda Plummer, Will Patton, Aidan Quinn, Geraldine Page, Ann Wedgeworth, Karen Young, James Gammon – hard to imagine a more perfectly cast play all these years later with no matter which combination of actors you put together.
The night I saw it, before the curtain (well, there wasn’t really a curtain because the set was visible to everyone before the play began) it was announced that Keitel was at the hospital because his wife, Lorraine Bracco (Yes, she of the Sopranos) was having a baby and an understudy would be covering for him. They gave us the choice of turning in our tickets for another day (Keitel was a hot ticket in those days) or staying. I was an actor and of course I wanted to stay.
The understudy was so new he went on script in hand, referring to the pages for virtually every line. At one point, in a heated emotional moment, the script flew out of his hand and landed in front of him on the stage, every cast member’s eyes and those of every single person in the audience staring at it, then looking up at the hapless understudy wondering what was going to happen next.
He dove for the script, flipping through its pages looking for the scene when suddenly Amanda Plummer came to his rescue and took the script from him, flipping through the pages to find the scene, and when she found his line, she folded the script in half and handed it back to her fellow actor.
And the show went on.
I love New York. I love the theatre. I love Sam Shepard. My memories of this city will forever include seeing A Lie of the Mind at the Promenade, and True West at The Cherry Lane with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise, and Fool for Love at the Magic Theatre of San Francisco’s Circle Rep production with Will Patton and Kathy Baker (directed by Shepard), and another production directed by Shepard at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre with Francis Fisher and Aidan Quinn.
Game of Thrones Cersei and Jaime Lannister ain’t got nothin’ on Fool for Love‘s Eddie and May. But that’s another story.
I have almost every Playbill from every play I’ve seen since I moved to New York. I will dig through my linen closet turned into book, play, script closet and see if A Lie of the Mind is among them. Hopefully.
Rest in Power Sam Shephard.
Sam Shepard is Dead:
NY Times of the Original Production: