Kentucky fried secrets and lies

The stakes are high in Sam Shepard’s tense drama ‘Simpatico.’

Kara Nesvig

Secrets are, like, so hot right now. You know everybody’s got one. And with the popularity of gut-spilling Web sites like PostSecret, thought-provoking art exhibits packed to the hilt with those dirty little confidentialities on display, and the absolute explosion of online blogs, it seems people these days are just itching to reveal their deepest, darkest feelings to the entire world.

“SIMPATICO”

WHEN: Oct. 12 – Nov. 4
WHERE: Theatre in the Round, 245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $20, theatreintheround.org

But some secrets are much more dangerous than the fact that you feed your cats your boogers, are ashamed of your husband, or hate your mother’s mullet. Some secrets are so explosive that they have the power not only to change your life if they happen to slip out into the open; they have the power to destroy you.

Such is the case in famed playwright Sam Shepard’s “Simpatico,” now being produced by the West Bank’s local and legendary Theatre in the Round. For the two-and-a-half hour duration of this complicated drama, a huge, painful secret looms heavily above the characters and determines their every action. It taunts them with its importance, throws shadows of doubt upon trusted friends and haunts their day-to-day lives. But what is this horrible event that transpired 15 years prior?

Lyle Carter is a successful Kentucky horse breeder with a beautiful wife named Rosie and a life that seems to be absolute perfection. His old pal Vinnie, however, is a volatile washed-up Bourbon-swilling drunk with a seedy California apartment and an overwhelming amount of guilt stemming from their shared salacious past and wrongful actions. When the two men reunite, it’s obvious that old wounds haven’t yet healed. It seems Carter loaded up Vinnie’s ’58 Buick with Vinnie’s wife, Rosie, and took off toward Kentucky, and since then he’s been paying Vinnie hush money with lucrative job offers, televisions, new cars and apartments.

Scandalous, yes, but that’s still not the terrible event that so concerns the two men and their every passing moment. All we know is that it’s got something to do with a box of dirty pictures and a racehorse, and that only Carter, Vinnie, Rosie, and an eccentric old man who once called himself Simms know the absolute truth. They dance around it in an intricate two-step, a spider web of betrayals, vengeance, jealousy and vindication.

In the end, it is the disturbed businessman Carter who pays the ultimate price, a lesson best described in the immortal words of Justin Timberlake (among others, of course): “What goes around comes around.” This particular gem of wisdom is certainly true of our multimillionaire horse breeder, who eventually learns that his inexhaustible money supply can never buy him love, happiness, honesty, or peace of mind.

“Mr. Ed” this isn’t. “Simpatico” is a complex show, folks. It’s clearly reminiscent of 1950s film noir, a veritable maze of twists and turns playing out before your very eyes on Theatre in the Round’s unique circular “stage.” The search for the truth is never-ending in “Simpatico,” and one is never completely sure which character is genuine. The players stab each other in the back without a second thought, change identities, guzzle Bourbon, make accusations, and scream and fight. Relationships are double-edged swords; when a shared secret is able to completely devastate you, whom can you ever possibly trust? The actors themselves are razor-sharp, lending their tortured alter egos a pulsating life in situations where every nerve is tethered and darkness rarely gives way to light.

“Shepard has a really great grasp on observing men’s relationships, be they brothers or best friends. And ‘Simpatico’ is a really great ‘guy’ play,” director Richard Jackson said. “And he creates humor out of these horrible, terrible situations.”

In short, Sam Shepard’s “Simpatico” is a testament to the valuable lesson we all learned as kindergartners: Actions have consequences, and you’ve got to be prepared to pay for yours, even if it changes your life.