nytheatre.com review by Komail Aijazuddin
August 12, 2006
New York Times critic Ben Brantley did not in fact hail LYING as the "best Goddamned show I've seen this year!" despite the claims of the poster in the lobby of the Village Theatre. This stunt is just one of the many blatantly absurd but unbelievably compelling digressions from reality that this entertaining play offers this year's Fringe Festival enthusiasts.
True to its title, LYING never claims to be the whole truth, but simply a glamorous, schizophrenic version of it as seen by the quasi-epileptic protagonist, Lauren. We watch as she glides from disabled adolescent to dysfunctional adult, unabashedly fibbing the entire time. Lauren's mother's hilarious character, skeptical of modern medicine but distressingly in need of a session of shock therapy or two, wants her to stop her fits through sheer force of will, and offers fertile ground for the therapy Lauren eventually receives. A combination of her epilepsy and ensuing insecurity keep Lauren constructing defunct realities that encompass and retreat at will.
Indeed, Lauren (played consistently well by Jessica Burr) lies so often, and so well, that her would-be confessions to even the audience turn from truth to tricks, until one finds oneself questioning anything shown about her life at all.
Director Damen Scranton makes masterful use of the stage and couldn't have asked for a better cast of players. In a gust of inspiration, Lauren's mother is played by three of LYING's five actors simultaneously. Matt Opartny, Jesse Webster, and Laura Wickens create a three-headed monster of misery, glamour, and guilt that delivers each line with a glower, a smile, and a tear. Rarely have I seen the complexity of a character so seamlessly yet thoroughly portrayed.
Becca Blackwell's performance as Christopher, a famous writer/pustule on the face of decency, is remarkable. She is so utterly convincing as a sleazy man preying on the weak and sexy that she becomes, in and of herself, a personification of the play's central message that fact and reality are not interchangeable concepts. The script at different times questions our beliefs that, for example, women cannot be sexy men, defies our assumption of the sincerity of a god-like narrator, and ultimately challenges the perceptions of reality as truth.
Burr and Opatrny's script, adapted from Lauren Slater's memoir of the same name, is a recipe for delicious humor laced with beautiful, delicate prose. A behavioral therapist shouts, "You don't have the time or money to dismantle your denial!" at Lauren's mother(s), whose consistent refusal of her daughters condition is symptomatic of her own delusion of grandeur. Lauren tell us how she grinds her teeth during her violent fits, creating "tooth ash: the residue of words you've never spoken but should have." The characters all have one thing in common: compulsion. Each has a nagging need to fulfill their own gleaming reality in an effort to escape the shoddy one they inhabit. You eventually see how Lauren's illness is a manifestation of what is essentially human nature. Clever dramatic stage tricks reminiscent of Japanese Kabuki theatre convey the parallel absurdity and validity of situations (it's amazing how much a fan and a handful of confetti can resemble a blizzard).
So, Brantley might not make it to LYING, but you should: It's the best Goddamned show I've seen this year.