The Actors Co-op’s stark rendition of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love pays delicious attention to desire’s heat and pressure, and the reward is 70 minutes of tragic beauty.
The challenge for a company attempting this precarious piece is that Shepard ruthlessly plops his hapless characters into a world that has no true history. Or if the truth ever did exist, it now hides in the folds of the characters’ stories.
Through this shifting from the real to the imagined, the actors deliver intimate, nuanced performances. Though some corners remain accidentally jagged, the ensemble as a whole maintains the tension of Shepard’s postmodern nightmare, where that which orients the characters within their misty world of dreams and memories is the very thing repelling them out of it.
The play takes place within the confines of May’s (Amy Hubbard) motel room, a paddock on the edge of the Mojave Desert where one can almost smell the years of hourly turnover. Eddie (Andrew Miller), May’s horse-wrangling lover of 15 years and maybe her half-brother, has suddenly reappeared after a prolonged absence. Their shared history reignites old rage, but there’s no space for either to hide. Caged, they’re faced with two choices: return to their combative relationship, or turn away from each other and try again to navigate the world alone.
As they dig in for battle, holding tightly to their conflicting desires, May and Eddie share the room with the Old Man (Greg Congleton), who may or may not be May and/or Eddie’s father, and Martin (Jim Richardson), who represents the everyman in Shepard’s immorality tale.
Other actors might be trapped by the sustained anger of the two main characters, but Hubbard and Miller find moments to breathe, allowing the audience to envision the choice they face, to envision a world where May and Eddie are apart and alone in the darkness just beyond the door of May’s room. Then, with a swig of tequila, their relationship’s destructive paradox of love and hate squeezes ever tighter.
Hubbard’s performance is soundly crafted. She allows the audience to slog through May’s reckless desire for exit. Hubbard undulates between fear and love, possibility and inertia. In her performance, May is strong even while being weak, making her decision to venture out into the unknown darkness courageous.
Miller huffs and puffs his way through Eddie’s attempted wrangling of May with courage, but at times his exalhations seem more an afterthought than a choice.
Congleton has the biggest challenge acting the Old Man, who is simultaneously there and absent. A mixture of the father in Dexter and Stewie of The Family Guy, Congleton blurts his recollected truths of the characters’ pasts from his corner, pointing at pictures that are not there, and pulling his progeny back towards his mythic past.
The most pleasant surprise comes from Richardson’s Martin. Shepard provides a “normal” character as a backdrop to the action’s melee. Richardson, however, chooses simplicity over some definition of normalcy, and in so doing presents a seamless depiction of a man accepting his life but not necessarily his current situation.
Katie Norwood Alley’s direction is appropriately light-handed and deliberately paced. May and Eddie stare out into a void during their monologues, unintentionally expanding the space between audience and performer.
The set design by Kenneth Mayfield is brutal and appropriate—the stage creaks and pops under the pressure of the action to the point where certain moments are drowned out by the clip-clop of the actors’ feet—and IronWood Studios, located off of North Central Street and surrounded by warehouses, provides an ideal backdrop. Walking through the raised, metal garage door prepares the audience to leave their world behind and embrace Shepard’s harsh splendor.
If you like Shepard, then go see this production. If you don’t, but love good work, then go see this production. The intimacy of the space, coupled with the intimacy of the performances, makes the Fool for Love a true gem.