The Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo once wrote, "Something identifies you with the one who leaves you, and it is your common power to return: thus your greatest sorrow."
He continued: "Something separates you from the one who remains with you, and it is your common slavery to depart: thus your meagerest rejoicing."
Those quotes open the script of Sam Shepard's 1986 play, "A Lie of the Mind," to be performed at Western Maryland College beginning today.
On the surface, the play deals with a married couple, with their problems and their families, who are brought into the situation.
On a deeper level, the real theme is love and how we treat those ZTC we love -- physically, verbally and emotionally -- and what that does to us and our relationships.
"The play begins with an act of domestic violence -- which we don't see -- which separates Jake and Beth, who are deeply in love," explained Ron Miller, the director.
"The two characters are thrown into the care of their families. She's taken to Montana and he's taken to Oklahoma."
As the play switches back and forth from one family to the other, it becomes apparent that both families are totally dysfunctional. But once the characters realize that they've been lying to themselves and each other, they start telling the truth about their feelings and their lives change for the better.
"Unlike many writers who start with normal people, Shepard starts with abnormal, dysfunctional people and shows how deeply they can love, but are unable to express it," Mr. Miller said. "You have two people who are deeply in love, and can't communicate that love, and finally give each other up because of that love."
Beth, who is hospitalized with serious brain injuries from Jake's beating, sums up what the couple's love has done to them when she tells her brother, "He's killed us both . . . You can't stop him in me, he's in me, he's my heart."
Todd Robinson, a fifth-year student and theater major, plays Mike, Beth's brother. He's caught in the middle between wanting to protect his sister and hiding the truth from their parents about her injuries.
"In a way, I was glad it happened, because I never liked Jake," Mr. Robinson said of the character. "I try to help my sister recover physically and emotionally from this beating."
He sees the play as a "realistic portrait of the American family. Beth and I have a domineering dad and subservient mother, just going on that way because they thought it couldn't be any other way."
Finally, the parents open their eyes and start being honest with themselves. So do the other characters.
Jake's sister, played by Dara Breitkopf, a graduate student majoring in deaf education, is one character whose life improves when she learns some truths about her family. "I have a hard time dealing with my mother and brother, and I want to get away, but I come back to help Jake," she said.
Mr. Miller calls the play "an odd mixture of painful situations" with some comedic lines thrown in.
The production, staged as part of a Performance Lab class by advanced acting students, will feature studio staging in which the audience is seated on stage with the performers.
"A Lie of the Mind" is considered appropriate for teens and adults.
Performances are at 8 p.m. tonight through Sunday and April 28-30 on the main stage in Alumni Hall. Tickets are $3 for students and $5 for adults. The Alumni Hall box office will open a half-hour before each performance. Reservations: (410) 857-2599.