Told in three acts set in the gritty American West, the story alternates between two families after a severe incident of spousal abuse leaves all their lives altered until the final collision at an isolated cabin. The two families, one composed of Baylor, Meg, Beth, and Mike, the other composed of Lorraine, Sally, Frankie, and Jake are connected by the marriage of Jake and Beth, whose beating and subsequent hospitalization at the hands of Jake initiates the beginning of the play. Exploring family dysfunction and the nature of love, the play follows Jake and the family as they struggle with Beth's brain damage

Performance History

The first production was staged at the Promenade Theatre, New York on December 5, 1985.  Directed by Sam, the play starred Harvey Keitel, Amanda Plummer, Aidan Quinn, Geraldine Page and Will Patton. Music was composed by the Red Clay Ramblers.

The first London production was at the Royal Court on October 14, 1987. It was directed by Simon Curtis and starred Will Patton, Miranda Richardson, Paul McGann, Geraldine McEdwan and Paul Jesson.

The first major Off-Broadway revival was staged by the New Group at the Acorn Theatre from January 29 to March 20, 2010. Ethan Hawke directed the production with an ensemble cast featuring Keith Carradine, Josh Hamilton, Marin Ireland, Laurie Metcalf, Alessandro Nivola, Maggie Siff, Frank Whaley, and Karen Young.


Winner of 1985 Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards for Best New Play.

From the playwright

In the original New York production, which I directed, I had the good fortune to encounter a bluegrass group called The Red Clay Ramblers, out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their musical sensibilities, musicianship, and great repertoire of traditional and original tunes fit the play like a glove. . . . Working intimately with these musicians, structuring bridges between scenes, underscoring certain monologues, and developing musical “themes” to open and close the acts left me no doubt that this play needs music. Live music. Music with an American backbone. . . .


1985 Production

2010 Production

1985 Production:

''A Lie of the Mind" may be its author's most romantic play. However bleak and chilly its terrain - some of it unfolds, in more ways than one, in a blizzard - no character, alive or dead, is beyond redemption: There is always hope, as Mr. Shepard's closing metaphor has it, for a miraculous ''fire in the snow.'' And the work's buoyancy doesn't end there. By turns aching and hilarious - and always as lyrical as its accompanying country music - ''A Lie of the Mind'' is the unmistakable expression of a major writer nearing the height of his powers. Mr. Shepard has written more innovative, let alone tidier, plays, as well as those that achieve a firmer sense of closure. But these four hours pass like a dream, with scene after scene creating a reverberant effect.   ...Frank Rich, NY Times

2010 Production:

Mr. Shepard’s richest and most penetrating play, a 20th-century masterwork of a family portrait to be compared with Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and Harold Pinter’s “Homecoming.” Though it received a widely praised New York premiere 25 years ago...“Lie” is less well known - and less frequently revived - than its author’s similarly themed “Buried Child,” “True West” and “Fool for Love.” Perhaps it was the four-hour running time of the original production that put directors off. (This one clocks in at under three hours.) Or that it’s not easy putting together a complete ensemble (there is no starring role) up to the demands of a script in which hyperreal and surreal teeter in delicate balance.      ...Ben Brantley, NY Times

Sam Shepard's most personal American drama, A Lie of the Mind — interweaving his favorite themes of fraternal, paternal, and marital discord — is in fine hands with director Ethan Hawke's hearty Off Broadway production of the award-winning 1985 play. Though Hawke's well-documented admiration for the playwright didn't prevent him from chopping an hour off the original's nearly four-hour running time, he assembles a marvelous combination of players to torment each other and resurrect the spellbinding uneasiness of the original.   ...Jeff Labrecque, EW


Published: A Lie of the Mind and The War in Heaven (London: Methuen, 1987).