Burnished to an earthy golden, Director Ryan Rilette’s absorbing, sensually deep, measured take on Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love(1983) is full of the stickiness of love and repulsion. There are betrayals and revelations galore along with raging verbal assaults and physical intimidations. It is riveting in its hold even three decades after it was first produced. Fool for Love opens Round House Theatre’s new season with danger and striking vigor.
Two ex-lovers circle each other in a rumble of dominance and submission. Each takes a turn using the potent weapons they have at hand; physical strength and verbal slashes. Each is skilled; far from defenseless. The tension of expected violence leading to potential blood and bruises is always there, right on the surface. But far more magnetic is their emotionally primal flailing; two people fearful of real, long-lasting emotional and physical intimacy with some justifiable cause that would likely give dear Dr. Freud a jolt.
So let this reviewer provide a short summary of Fool for Love: The audience finds a woman named May apparently hiding out in a road-side motel that has seen much better days. Location is somewhere in the desert Southwest. An old lover named Eddie, also her childhood friend of some very special bond, appears out of nowhere. Why? Well, he wants her back into his life even though he is the one that has up and left her, and many a time at that. He seems a man of dreams and fantasies. She seems a woman with a desire for the touchable and permanent.
“I don’t understand my feelings. I really don’t. I don’t understand how I could hate you so much after so much time. How, no matter how much I’d like to not hate you, I hate you even more. It grows.” says May to Eddie early on. These words are not after she is had been hanging on to him for dear life at his arrival back in her life.
On the drama’s journey, which take place in a motel room, two other characters appear. There is a ghost of a character named the “Old Man.” Over time the audience learns of his unanticipated and quite startling familial connected to both May and Eddie. The Old Man is an observer and provides almost Talmudic comments with practiced skill. The other character is Martin, with an emphasis on the last syllable of ‘tin.” He comes into view late in the proceedings. He is a bewildered man, innocent to the darker ways of the world painted by Shepard.
Rilette wrote in his Producing Artistic Director’s notes that, “like most great plays, Fool for Love is open to lots of different interpretations.” Rilette takes a no-rush tact with pacing the production. It is a story-teller’s pacing; no hurry to let the audience savor words. The outside world is shrunk into a single motel room even as some outside forces try to invade the motel room.
Rilette’s casting is the critical element to his take on Fool for Love. Let’s just talk about the character of May played by Katie deBuys. deBuys is no passive presence. She is a deep pool of emotions and force that moves from victim to perpetrator and back again in a quick moment. She can be in a fetal position one moment and gives off fierce rage a moment later without a misstep. deBuys is a bewildering presence to the male characters. She has a three-dimensional sensuality and is no Daisy Duke-like sexualized waif.
Even when standing still without a word passing from her lips, deBuys shows hurt, pain, fury, resentment, love, and a whole range of emotions as her eyes turning dark and small, or bright and wide-open. Her mouth gives off trembles as well as pops of rage. She is just real.
Thomas Keegan is Eddie. He is first seen as the proto-typical ‘Marlboro Man’ cowboy. To most, he would seem likeable. Physically lean, verbally laconic and oh so sure of himself. Well sure until the motel door closes. Soon enough deBuys as May comes to her senses. Keegan responds to deBuys with a quick temper and quicker jealousy before trying to sweet talk her to see his way of things. Fat chance! Keegan infuses his Eddie with dimensions beyond mere male beauty and story-telling skills. He has a sly grin and cute affect even sitting on the floor after being punched by a man or kneed in the groin by May. But, unreliable he most certainly is.
Round House veteran Marty Lodge is the Old Man. What an inspired casting choice! He sits in a rocking chair at audience right most often in the shadows but always emotionally involved. With his lined face, speaking in a craggy voice of authority almost until the very end he is spot perfect. If it matters, he comes off as a weathered Michael Weatherly who plays Anthony DiNozzo Jr on the television series NCIS.
Tim Getman is the innocent wide-eyed interloper named Martin. He is not a weird physical weakling; far from that. Rather, the handsome, bearded Getman plays Martin as in way over his head. He is disoriented. Befuddled into silence out of his inexperience with the startling darkness he witnesses. Certainly not the movie date he had been planning.
The scenic design and costume design for Fool for Love by Meghan Raham gives off a sense of place and character. The motel and the characters have known better times. But they are not quite yet fried. Tattered blinds, water stained walls, crappy furnishings, including a bed, make up the visuals. There is a tall rusted outdoor motel sign with blinking light that aptly represents what Shepard had in mind. Some nicely done film-noir shadows by way of Lighting Designer Daniel MacLean Wagner add visually forbidding touches. Sound Designer Eric Shimelonis adds a pre-show lonesome slide guitar that carries over to fill in behind scene changes in this one act production. Shimelonis provides unexpected eerie sound touch with echoes rising each time a door is shut or slammed.
This production of Fool for Love will linger with you after leaving Round House. From the first moment we see May hanging on to Eddie’s leg, to her first word, ‘No! to what she utters later, “You can’t keep messing me around like this. It’s been going on too long. I can’t take it anymore. I get sick every time you come around. Then I get sick when you leave. You’re like a disease to me.” DeBuys is a revelation.
Round House’s overall production values will shake an audience into total alertness. Fool for Love, is a classic, even with some minor references to celebrity Barbara Mandrell probably flying over the heads of anyone under 50. Your reviewer does wonder about reactions to the play’s “almost” physical violence, given recent TMZ video releases of real life, real people.
The final blackout of Fool for Love matches that of the television series The Sopranos as one contemplates what next in store for the characters. A marvelous feast for those who like a strong brew, Fool for Love it is.
Running Time: 80 minutes, without an intermission.