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A CurtainUp Review
Fool for Love
By Elyse Sommer
The rhythmic quality that gives Fool For Love the feeling of a musicalized fight drama is most evident in the repeated door slammings — Eddie's out the motel's entry into the parking lot, and May's into the bathroom. The loud slam of the door accompanying each exit is a leitmotif for the painful reality of these bleak star-crossed lives that no fantasy or burst of passion can change.
In the 2014 Williamstown Theatre revival, when Sam Rockwell, like Eddies before him, walked once more into the parking lot (his corral), there was no mistaking the finality of that door's slamming shut. But with the mesmerizing Nina Arianda, who became a star fresh out of college with Venus in Fur donning the little red dress that's as integral to the play as the Shepardesque symbolism playing the woman determined to break free from Eddie's hold on her, there was nothing final about this 15-day run. Arianda and Rockwell were clearly headed for the big corral that is Broadway.
Actually Arianda and Rockwell were replacements for Williamstown's originally scheduled May and Eddie (Chris Pine and Lauren Ambrose, who had last minute scheduling problems), so they had even less than usual rehearsal time. Now that the production has transferred to the Samuel J. Friedman to which Venus and Fur also transfered, Adriana and Rockwell they've had plenty of time to deepen the impact of this story of doomed dreams. Indeed both have done so in terms of ratcheting up the sexual sizzle between them as well as their body language which with these actors often says more than words. In Rockwell's case, he's become even more adept at twirling his lasso around furniture and even Adriana's May.
The story centers on May's struggle to break free from Eddie's influence over her. He typifies the macho male who clings as best he can to his cowboy swagger. She's got an independent streak, but somehow not strong enough to break away from her volatile relationship with a man who continually abandons his conquests. In May's case he pursues her only and most insistently when there is a chance that she will escape him. Her latest escape — and it's easy to sense that she's moved out of his trailer before and he's pursued her before, if not always 2,480 miles as he has this time.
While True West has been done on Broadway (True West Broadway review), Fool for Love, though frequently produced is gracing a Great White Way marquee, and there's no question that it's got a Broadway worthy cast and production. Under Daniel Aukin's direction Sam Shepard's view of the American family and landscape for maximum humor, physicality, and sadness holds up remarkably well. You can almost feel the grime of the walls of Dan Laffrey's grungy Mojave Desert motel (when does this guy sleep? He created both scenery and costumes across the street for Spring Awakening, also worked on two recently opened Off-Broadway shows — Cloud Nine and the Christians). Justin Townsend's lighting subtly supports Laffrey's setting and costumer Anita Yavich has given May and Edde just the right look.
Typically Shepardesque, the 75-minutes bristle with symbolism, physicality and suspense. That suspense is less about whether May will succumb to Eddie's insistence that they can and will be happy together than the gradually revealed details about what makes their volatile 15-year-long relationship more than a case of boundless sexual passion. Those revelations come via the silent old man (Gordon Joseph Weiss) sitting at the edge of the stage. This ghostly character is seen only by Eddie and May and it's their interchanges with and about their connection to him that makes this more than a Romeo and Juliet story with the teen-aged lovers not dying but living out their less than happily after story.
Another character Martin (Tom Pelphrey, the only newcomer to the Broadway cast), an ordinary working man with whom May has a date to go to the movies, triggers Eddie to turn scarily aggressive and reveal his fear that he might become the son repeating the sins of hid father (yes, the ever present ghostly guy). Both Weiss and Pelphrey make these characters vital additions to the story. However, Fool For Love always has and continues to be a bravura acting opportunity for the two actors playing the lovers. The 1983 San Francisco premiere which Shepard directed starred Ed Harris and Kathy Baker transferred to a 1,000 performance run that won Harris an OBIE.
All this said, the one Fool For Love that will always have a top place in my favorite theater memories list was the one I saw at the now sadly defunct 29th Street Rep in 2002. This upstairs venue with its mission of presenting hard-edged, gritty dramas was custom-made for the squalid motel room with its flashing Neon lights and grimy curtains. Being a small theater it was a much more intimate experience that practically put you into that motel room And David Mogentale and Elizabeth Elkins, two big stars with the company if little known at more fashionable theaters further uptown, were both riveting. But with this worthy company gone and any Shepard play always an event, his fans won't want to miss this starry revival.