As an emotional look at two families keeping secrets, Masque & Gown's production of playwright Sam Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind" is thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining.

Attendees of yesterday's opening night performance were affected by the play's difficult content and uneasy resolution.

"It was riveting to see how each of the families coped with parallel problems," said Christina Pindar '12. "The characters all perceived situations differently and shaped reality into something they each could deal with."

"A Lie of the Mind" is initially centered on Montana-bred Beth and Southern Californian Jake, a tortured couple who have each inflicted irreparable damage on the other. Beth is recovering from a severe brain injury caused by Jake, and Jake is emotionally destroyed from his relationship with Beth.

The storyline expands to include the interactions between their parents and siblings as Beth and Jake try to heal in their own way.

The ensemble cast features Seth Kelley '10, Anna Byers '11, Alex Mosello '11, Sam Plattus '12, Lucas O'Neil '12, Tess Chardiet '13, Kacey Berry '13 and Kate Kearns '14.

Beth is played by Berry, who initially struggled with learning how to embody a woman with newly diminished mental capacities.

"I don't usually have a problem picking up lines easily, but memorizing lines for a woman who makes syntactical mistakes, makes up words and repeats phrases in similar but different ways each time has been a challenge," wrote Berry in an e-mail to the Orient.

Berry overcame her initial difficulties with the role, and her performance was spot-on. Berry's acting demonstrated her understanding of the intricacies of Beth's mental state.

"She's brain damaged, but in many ways seems to me to be the smartest, or at least most perceptive, character in the play," wrote Berry. "She knows things about the other characters that they don't know about themselves."

While the subject matter of the show is very dark, comic relief was provided by the older generation of characters. Playing a Montana rancher and Beth's father, O'Neil gave a convincing, often humorous performance.

It was impossible to tell that he stepped into the role just three weeks ago.

"One of our actors had to go on medical leave a few weeks ago," said production manager Lianna Bessette '13. "We found [O'Neil] within a week and he's been with the cast since."

One of the highlights of the show was the live band that accompanied the drama. Benj Bellon '13 composed a haunting score featuring his advanced styling on the violin.

"A Lie of the Mind" would not have been so effective without its director, Sam Fichtner '14. Fichtner chose the show for its depth of content and his family's connection to it.

"'A Lie of the Mind' is one of the most powerful plays written in the past 30 years. It tackles love, truth, marriage and abuse," said Fichtner. "My mother was in the original Broadway production in 1985, and when I saw a recent Off-Broadway revival, it sparked my creative wells."

In November, Masque & Gown accepted Fichtner's play proposal.

"He had a very coherent vision," said Bessette of the proposal. "We also have Pickard this semester, so we wanted to make the best of that. This is a big show and it works really well in the space that we have."

As the son of two actors, Fichtner has been around the theatrical world his entire life. He has dabbled in acting and playwriting and enjoyed taking on the challenge of directing.

"A lot of directing is instinctual," said Fichtner. "It's about finding the crossovers of different people's theatrical sensibilities and looking within them to find what is truthful for the play and the scene."

Fichtner also had help from his cast members.

"[Plattus] was a first year director two years ago, so he's been guiding me through this," said Fichtner.

For such a young director, Fichtner impressed the members of Masque & Gown with his dedication to the direction he wanted to take the show in.

"He has always been very clear about what he wants, but he also respects the designers and gives them control over what they need to do," said Bessette. "It's been a good mix of giving the designers a lot of freedom and also making sure it fits with his vision."

While the rehearsal process was a grueling four hours a day every week for eight weeks, the cast enthusiastically committed themselves to getting the most out of their characters.

"Nothing makes me happier than going to rehearsal and getting to watch them all work," said Fichtner. "They make the smartest choices, ask the most interesting questions and inspire me to bring more and to push them farther."

The combination of Fichtner's influence and the cast's talents make "A Lie of the Mind" a show worth seeing. The play will be performed tonight and tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in Pickard Theater.

Tickets are $1 with Bowdoin ID, $3 without and can be purchased at the Smith Union information desk or immediately before the show at the Pickard box office.