This play by Sam Shepard was first presented by Circle Rep in 1983; it was a great success for them with Ed Harris and Kathy Baker playing Eddie and May. It transferred from their home base to the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre off Broadway where it ran on and on, with several actors replacing the originals.
In the current production these two are Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda, two of the most promising young actors of recent seasons. Ms. Arianda gave a startling performance in Venus in Fur for which she was rewarded with a Tony Award, and Mr. Rockwell has been in dozens of films and a handful of regional theatres.
This early play by Mr. Shepard gives them both complicated and beautifully etched roles into which they sink their teeth from start to finish. At first curtain, we are treated to a still life — a gorgeously arranged and lit picture of a girl with her head bowed between her knees, a man sprawled sexily in a chair tilted lazily against the back wall, and an old man down stage right staring at them both. It’s a painting of a cheap motel room on the edge of the Mojave desert and it places us immediately in Sam Shepard’s western world.
We will learn that Eddie has driven a great distance to find May, with whom he long ago had been having a torrid affair. But she’d left him when she learned he was seeing another woman whom she calls “the Countess.” Eddie denies his infidelity, and begs her to join him in the trailer he owns, to come live with him on a farm they had once dreamed of owning. May is doing her best to free herself of her obsession, and has in fact been seeing someone else whom she’s expecting at any moment. He arrives, and it’s clear he wants to know May better; he’s a good looking, easy going and solid candidate for a better life,and May wants to work it out with him. But Eddie fights hard for this woman, and after putting Martin out of commission for the moment, he and May physically battle it out.
The old man, who is part of both of their imaginations, represents Eddie’s father, who had an affair with May’s mother which makes him her father too. There is more, but I don’t want to spoil the revelations that rise from the heated work that is one of Sam Shepard’s major creations.
I had never seen the original, or any of the regional productions that have followed in the thirty years since it was first done, but it’s as vivid and viable today as it was then. Eddie and May are characters that will be around indefinitely for their connection is strictly visceral and will not date. When two arresting actors take them on, as is the case here, we are treated to an explosive two hours traffic upon the stage. In these two performances, all the colors are on display, for both characters have tenderness and violence within them, and many shades in between.
Tom Pelphrey and Gordon Joseph Weiss contribute mightily as well, with Mr. Weiss moving us with his guilt at having abandoned both his children at various times in their lives. Mr.Pelphrey plays May’s suitor so beautifully that we can’t help rooting for him. But at play’s end he is left alone, to reflect on the messy menage into which he had inadvertently stumbled.
Sam Shepard has combed the western and plains states again and again for tales involving the people who have discovered these regions and tried, sometimes with success, to tame them and make them home. He deals often with loners and losers, with troubled families, and his people are human, filled with anguish and in many cases there is humor as well.
Fool for Love is a bright example of Sam Shepard at his best, and if you’re not familiar with his work, this production is a ‘must-see.’ If you do already know and admire him, you won’t be disappointed in this rendering with a first-rate cast, produced and directed by Daniel Aukin, who has all of it under control. You can feel the heat in this cabin, you can see the dust rise as tempers flare, and the battle rages.
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.
Fool for Love is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre – at The Manhattan Theatre Club – 261 West 47th Street, in New York City (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue). For tickets, visit the box office, or call (212) 239-6200, or (800) 447-7400, or purchase them online at Telecharge.