Hyper Reality at Lees-McRae
A dose of reality hits the Lees-McRae College main stage next week, and it's what director and professor Tessa Carr is calling "hyper reality."
"When you watch one of these scenes, your initial thought might be, 'These people are so insane,' ... but suddenly you can see, 'Oh yeah, there's the skeleton of something I've seen before.' ... He pushes it all over the top to make his point," she said.
"He" is Sam Shepard, Academy Award nominated actor and lauded playwright ("Buried Child," "Fool for Love"). "A Lie of the Mind" will be his first work to hit the Lees-McRae stage, and it's a show students are taking seriously.
Monday, they gave up their Valentine's Day to hit the stage for their first off-script rehearsal.
"I guess it's kind of weird not being at home with my fiancÚ and my son on Valentine's Day," senior theater major Liz Perr said.
But it's worth it, or it will be in a week.
"I just think it's a really big acting challenge for me," she said.
And it's a take-home challenge for the audience, promoting discussion about their own families.
"I really hope (the audience) understands that it's okay for them to feel uncomfortable about their own family's weirdness and quirks, because everyone kind of wants their family to seem normal."
"A Lie of the Mind" is dysfunction in an overdose. The play opens with the aftermath of a severe spousal beating, with Jake (James Shimo) thinking he has killed his wife, Beth (P.J. Pirkle).
It's an emotional play, ripe with a rawness the cast has been working on four nights a week for weeks. It's a grit apparent particularly in Pirkle's first few moments on stage, a confused victim of violent crime dealing with brain damage in an unfamiliar hospital environment.
"To me, this show really makes a big statement about denial," senior cast member Jake Sheffer said. "It's about denial and about the kind of stages people go through to pretend things are fine."
It's a denial felt by two families as they deal with reality after violence.
Despite the harsh picture, it's a story Carr, a self-proclaimed feminist director, felt she had to tell.
"The characters are struggling with mythologies that we all struggle with every day," she said.
"They're struggling with the story of what it means to be in love, what it means to be a family, what it means to be a man or a woman, and they're just taking their choices further than any of us would."
And it's not the type of play you'll be able to leave in the theater.
"I hope the work fosters questions in audience members," she said. "Just have a good conversation."
Carr, a '93 Lees-McRae graduate and professor for four years, hopes people will get the same thrill out of coming to the theater next week that she did the first time she saw a show as a prospective student.
"I remember thinking how exciting that was to see the stage and see the set," she said.
And, while the technology and lighting sets have changed, the auditorium retains the same classic pizazz it had 20 years ago.
"A Lie of the Mind" is Carr's fourth main stage directorial endeavor at Lees-McRae, and one she hopes audiences will embrace.
"They're important mythologies," she said.
And they're mythologies you'll want to talk about long after the curtain closes.
"A Lie of the Mind," starring students Ashley Piercy, Liz Perr, James Shimo, Jake Sheffer, P.J. Pirkle, Kadey Ballard, Andrew Coston and Christopher Nelson, happens at the Hayes Auditorium on the Lees-McRae College campus in Banner Elk on Feb. 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 27 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for children and students. Call (828) 898-8709 for more information. Expect the play (performed in two acts) to last about two and a half hours.