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Fool For Love
In 1983, this classic Shepardscape with its Shepardesque concerns (the American West, insatiable passion and sibling relationships overhung with family dysfunction) transferred from its premiere in San Francisco to a 1,000 performance run at the now defunct Off-Broadway Circle Rep. When Ed Harris, who won an OBIE for creating the role of Eddie, left the show, one of his replacements was Bruce Willis. A 1985 film version by Robert Altman was scripted by and starred Sam Shepard as the rodeo cowboy -- now a movie stuntman -- and Kim Basinger as May. The film, while retaining much of the original dialogue, expanded the scene beyond the motel room and converted Shepard's monologues into flashbacks, a process which made the film less powerful than the play.
The challenge of restoring Fool For Love to the ugly and claustrophobic setting so carefully detailed in Shepard's stage directions is made to order for the 29th Street Rep with its affinity for hard-edged and decidedly un-pretty dramas. The motel room to which Eddie has driven "two thousand, four hundred and eighty miles" to be reunited with May is bare as a prison cell with its single bed and chair. The curtains at the window facing a flashing Neon motel sign look so grimy wouldn't want to touch them.
Initially, scheduled to open around this time last year, the company postponed the revival when David Morgentale became seriously ill. His Eddie was well worth the wait. As in his riveting portrayal of the title character in Bobby Supreme (see link below), Mr. Morgentale is all fidgety charm with a creepy edge. He's loving, tender, sexy, yet a tightly wound coil of confusion and tension. He shows us Eddie's surface and everything underneath -- the Marlboro Man who can twirl his rope around the motel bed post, but knows that there are kids younger and faster than he. He's a cowboy whose spread consists of a tin trailer and his talk about "a spread in Wyoming " and not periodically abandoning May is clearly just that, talk. Not so, for Shepard's play! The nonstop digging underneath Eddie's surface image and exploding the fantasies permeating his relationship with May adds up to as an absorbing hour and a half as you're likely to find in any of the more spacious big ticket theaters further uptown.
May, the other half of this noxious on-again-off-again relationship, is one of Shepard's first major female characters. She's here played by Elizabeth Elkins, a 29th Street Rep regular. While the fictional characters should never have paired up to begin with, Elkins and Morgentale are a fine stage match. They previously locked horns in the alreadyy mentioned Bobby Supreme and Elkins once again plays a character who is more of a fighter than she at first appears to be. As Eddie's toughness turns out to be a veneer, so May's comatose craziness when we first meet her explodes into wild passion and just as quickly settles into a tougher awareness that Eddie will never grow up and live up to his promises of commitment.
To set the stage for the revelations that will finally end the affair, there are three other characters. The first is an unseen rich woman referred to repeatedly as "The Countess". Eddie's affair with her (which he claims only amounted to one dinner date) is the cause of the latest blowup between him and May. Though he now denies May's accusation that he was "bumping her [the Countess] on a regular basis" the woman, whom he has in typical Eddie fashion rejected, has followed him to the motel in her Mercedes-Benz in a do-anything mood that includes a barrage of bullets directed at May's room and setting Eddie's horse trailer on fire. Her unseen yet combustible presence echoes May's sexual enthrallment and her rage at Eddie's repeated abandonments.
The second outsider is Martin (Tony DeVito aptly playing a simple man caught up in a situation that's beyond him), a maintenance man with whom May, now working as a cook and, determined to live without drink or Eddy, has a date to go to the movies. Eddie, of course, will have none of this and assures the bewildered Martin that he can tell him stories better than any movie. His long monologue tracing the trajectory of the affair, and May's own and different memory of the same events, are the centerpieces of this potent play.
The third visible character adds a typical Shepardian touch of surrealism to the story's gritty realism. This is The Old Man (Steve Payne) who sits, drink at hand, in a rocking chair at the edge of the stage even before the lights dim. As the father who split his love between Eddie's and May's mother, thereby never committing himself to either, he is a not always silent witness, the root from which these crooked branches grew and became hoplessly, haplessly entwined. Payne, last seen at 29th Street Rep as the hard drinking writer Charles Bukowski in South of No North (see link below) is a perfect fit this role.
Director Tim Corcoran deserves much credit for his gut-wrenching direction, and especially for catching the rhythmic quality that gives Fool For Love the feeling of a musicalized fight drama. This is most evident in Eddie's repeated exits into the parking lot. Each loud, clanging slam of the motel's flimsyy door a leitmotif for the pain of love's ending. When Eddie walks once more into that parking lot (his corral), saying "I'm only gonna be a second, I'll just take a look at it and I'll come right back. Okay?", there's no mistaking the finality of that door's slamming shut once again. No amount of fantasy can change the reality of these bleak star-crossed lives.
Having the official opening of this grim tale of passion coincide with Valentine's Day is probably a bit of tongue-in-cheek scheduling. However, if the mostly under-35 overflow crowd at the preview performance I attended is any indication, plenty of couples will be snapping up tickets to do their hand-holding while watching May and Eddie's passionate but hopeless pas-de-deux.
Other Sam Shepard Play Reviews
The Late Henry Moss
The Lie of the Mind (London)
Other 29th Street Rep Productions Reviewed
South of No North
The Last Barbecue
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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