Dallas — Sam Shepard’s 1983 play Fool for Love is too often described as an incestuous love story. That’s not exactly right, though. (Apologies for not issuing a spoiler alert, but it is Sam Shepard, for goodness sake. Of course, there’s incest!) What isn’t correct about the description is the “love” part. Today, only the most broken among us would understand this play as a love story.
Instead, the play is a pretense toward love. It’s a playing—a foolish kind of playing—around with what love could possibly mean, whether it’s between a man and a woman, a brother and a sister, or a child and a father. If it’s love, then it’s a broken kind of love. One that is greedy and spiteful, self-seeking and easily angered. It’s as if Sam Shepard read I Corinthians 13—“Love is patient, love is kind….”—and decided to depict the exact opposite, where a father tells his two children, “Amazing thing is, neither one a’ you look a bit familiar to me. Can’t figure that one out. I don’t recognize myself in either one a’ you. Never did…. Totally unrecognizable. You could be anybody’s…. Good thing I got out when I did though. Best thing I ever did.”
The play is one of Shepard’s shortest full-length dramas. Instead of there being much dramatic rising and falling action in a fully fleshed-out plot, Fool for Love drops its audience down into the false calm of an emotional hurricane. What unfolds in the ensuing 75 minutes is the other side of the storm unleashing its fury, complete with fiery explosions and even what seems like the horses of the Apocalypse. The talented Van Quattro directs the current production by The Classics Theatre Project, running through March 30 at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park.
The scene opens on Eddie and May clutching one another on a cheap motel bed that serves as a life raft of sorts. The set design by stage manager Nat McBride and the company effectively captures the play’s mood. It’s a transient place that, for the time being, May calls home. The desert trespasses into her room. And it’s not just the desert trespassing. The all-to-present absent father sits in a rocking chair at the edge of the stage, surveying the emotional landscape that he’s created. The rocker faintly punctuates the passing of time as it further pulverizes the sand and gravel beneath it.
A bedspread that’s worn and faded by the sun covers the natty bed. An afghan lays crumpled on top. A standard-issue ceiling fan hangs over the bed center stage. One of the light bells is cracked—a detail that, whether intended or not, adds to the decrepit ambiance. On the back wall, there’s a spot left where a longtime picture hangs no more.
Eddie is soothing May with his words and tone of voice, promising not to leave. She hangs on for dear life, but then something changes. Her history with him comes flooding back, and she erupts. Between the two actors is an awkward, believable intimacy where fingers get stuck in the other’s hair and clothes. Beneath the surface lies a seething violence that flares up in passion and raw, primal desire before crashing back into a taut, dormant anger.
We soon learn that May is starting all over again with a new job in a new town. It’s never revealed just how much time has elapsed since her and Eddie’s on-again/off-again romance was last on. It’s been enough time for her to have met a new fellow, “a very friendly person,” a nice “man.” From the looks of her rundown motel room, she’s not starting from zero so much as from below zero.
She knows how her time with Eddie will play out. He has, after all, been up to the same games for 15 years. May tells him, “You’re gonna’ erase me…. You’re either gonna’ erase me or have me erased.” She continues, “I can smell your thoughts before you even think ’em.”
Sasha Maya Ada beautifully captures the conflicted May. Her character’s ambivalence toward Eddie has settled in the actor’s bones, and she convincingly conveys May’s conflicted hesitation with her voice, her eyes, and her entire body. Despite a long career onstage, this production is her first role in a Sam Shepard play.
Joey Folsom, who also serves as TCTP’s artistic director, plays the “gutless and guilty” Eddie, May’s ex-boyfriend and half-brother. Folsom’s Eddie woos the audience as much as May. We want to believe his obvious lies just because he makes them sound so unbelievably good. In a drunken, almost self-aware moment he explains, “Lying’s when you believe it’s true. If you already know it’s a lie then it’s not lying.” If his tears at the play’s climax are a lie, then maybe we don’t deserve the truth.
Chris Messersmith is the unnamed irritable Old Man, the father that Eddie and May share, who’s unraveled as many yarns as he’s spun. His justification for having led his duplicitous double-life is, “It can happen to the best of us.” Braden Socia rounds out the cast as the sympathetic and simple Martin, who blunders in on the drama unfolding between May and Eddie. Credit goes to Quattro for assembling such an outstanding, high-caliber cast and drawing from them such exceptional performances. It is difficult to imagine a cast that would be stronger with better pacing.
The quality acting is matched by the show’s high production value. In addition to the already mentioned effective set design, fight choreographer Dean Wray’s work is dynamic and realistic. The blocking, which requires everything from rolling on the floor to jumping on the bed, ranges from the tender to the athletic. A note to those not familiar with the play: Shepard’s script calls for doors to be “amplified with microphones and a resonator hidden in the frame so that each time an actor slams it, the door booms loud and long.” The door slams for this production register more as sound cues, with an additional detuned piano sound effect and a flash of lights. It can be a bit jarring. And since it’s Shepard, there are a lot of slamming doors.
This is only the second production from the newly formed The Classics Theatre Project, but they have already earned rave reviews. Seeing them in the historically significant and under-utilized Margo Jones Theatre only adds to an already great night of theater. Their opening weekend was sold out—further evidence that they’re doing something right.
Buy your tickets now for Fool for Love—but please don’t call it a love story.