40 / CHRONICLESnhas not lost its innocence or its naivetenso much as it has simply gone crazy.nIf, as Frank Rich suggests in hisnoriginal review of the play, “A Lie ofnthe Mind is the unmistakable expressionnof a major writer nearing thenheight of his powers,” then Shepard isna less viable contender for the title ofnGreat Playwright than we might havenassumed. In this, his most recent playn—and at four hours, presumably hisnlongest to date—Shepard presents twonhapless families, each consisting ofnfour members. When the dramanopens, Jake is phoning his brothernFrankie from the road to report thatnthis time when he beat his wife Beth,nhe surely killed her. Immediately establishingna sibling relationship reminiscentnof ones to be found in TruenWest and the film Paris, Texas (screenplaynby Shepard), Shepard poses annhysterical or crazy brother with a sanenand nurturing one.nIn what will become a tediousnrhythm and overbearing symmetry,nthis first scene dissolves into a secondnwhich finds Beth, Jake’s wife/victim,nin a hospital bed, while her brothernMike nurses her. With rare exceptionsnfor the duration of the play, the scenesnalternate from one family to the othernin a contrived fashion. In fact, thenmechanical structure of ALOTM isnmore elementary, more obvious, thannany other play I can think of (had itnbeen created for a Playwrighting 101ncourse the instructor would have gradednit as a clumsy work by a writer ofnpromise). Yet Shepard’s message, if henhas one, remains as blurry and asndeliberately cryptic as usual. Thenheavy symbolic gestures, the bits ofnstage business, look like random insertionsninto the first draft. At best, theynjustify themselves as beautiful gestures,nbut they fail to justify the rawnmaterial of the play or the tissue thatnsurrounds them.nIn effect, ALOTM is two discretenplays focusing on two separate familiesn— one in Southern California, thenother in Montana—interwoven withnobtrusive stitching. Instead of plot,nShepard supplies episodes, vignettes,nand long monologues as backgroundnexposition and family histories. All isndressed up with countless theatricalnmoments that typify his plays even asnthey fail to amount to a coherentnstatement. A subdued Jake blows thenashes of his cremated father into thenair while gazing stage-left at a nakednwoman (Beth) who is ostensibly hundredsnof miles away. Beth’s parentsnceremoniously fold an American flag,ncareful that it doesn’t touch the groundn(Baylor, Beth’s father: “I don’t know.nJust tradition, I guess. Funny hownthings come back to you after all thesenyears . . . “). Meanwhile Beth is consummatingnher new relationship withnFrankie, Jake’s brother and the surrogatenof Jake in Beth’s eyes. At the samentime, stage-right, Jake’s mother delightsnin watching her house go up innflames after she sets the match to it.nALOTM is an amalgam of a numbernof Shepard plays that precede it. Itnis also filled with references to the lifenand works of Tennessee Williams:nBeth making vague, repeated allusionsnto her having been lobotomized, remindingnus of Williams’ beloved sisternRose; Jake’s father, appearing in absentianas perhaps the pivotal moving forcenin the play, recalling the paternalnWingfield in The Glass Menagerienwho fell in love with “long distance”nand abandoned the family; Williams’nintended use of music in Menagerie ton”give emotional emphasis to suitablenpassages,” and Shepard’s affected, cinematicnuse of music here. But rathernthan borrow superficial traits and devicesnfrom Williams, Shepard shouldnhave heeded the far more substantialnadvice of his “Production Notes” ornpreface to Menagerie: “When a playnemploys unconventional techniques,nit is not, or certainly shouldn’t be,ntrying to escape its responsibility ofndealing with reality, or interpretingnexperience, but is actually or shouldnbe attempting to find a closer approach,na more penetrating and vividnexpression of things as they are.” It isnalso instructive to note that TomnWingfield (for our purposes, synonymousnwith Williams) gave us “truth innthe pleasant disguise of illusion.” In allnof his works, Shepard presents illusionnas if it were automatically some versionnof poetic truth.nThe major problem with Shepard’sndramas is that the themes are nevernclarified or resolved. Instead, they arenkept shrouded in vagueness. Shepard’snobsession with ambiguity probablynoriginated with the 60’s sensibility ofnopen-ended possibility. When, innALOTM, Beth’s mother Meg says.nnn”Please don’t scream in the housen—this house is very old,” this is obviouslynmeant to be a pregnant line—n”this house” as America itself, so fragilenand maligned that it can topple atnany moment. But what is the point,nMr. Shepard? Is this a new or valuableninsight? Or is it a comforting cliche fednto us in the guise of a puzzle, encouragingnus in our smug desperation.nThe legacy of American theater criticismninsists that there is always a gapnwaiting to be filled. It is our gravenmisfortune that Sam Shepard, thencontemporary fill-in, proves morensymptomatic of the vacuum than thensubstance we yearn to fill it with.nDespite our better judgment, Shepardnhas made a virtue out of a liability. Bynpresenting the sort of heavy symbolismnthat no playwright has gotten awaynwith since Ibsen, and that every selfrespectingnplaywright—includingnWilliams and Albee—had taken painsnto avoid, Sam Shepard evidentiy satisfiesnthe contemporary band of hungryncritics, always anxious to locate a messiahntoday who can be crucified tomorrow.nShepard’s gimmick is his dressingnup the emperor in old clothes; but it’snso long since we’ve seen this style ofnfinery that the garments look new tonus. Whether the clothes are new ornold, the point is that our generationnhas more to learn from nursery rhymesnof yore than from a play by SamnShepard. ccnDavid Kaufman is a theater critic innNew York City.nSympathy fornthe Devilnby Arthur EcksteinnAbbott ReduxnOne would have thought to havenheard the last of Jack Henry Abbott.nBack in the early 1980’s, you’ll remember,nJack Abbott was a literaryncause celebre: here was a great, lostnwriter, condemned to an unendingnand unfair prison term, but discoverednand redeemed by Norman Mailer.nTrue, Abbott had murdered a man innprison. But Mailer assured us of hisnwonderful talent; and anyway, then