From the pulpy sounding name to the seemingly hackneyed setup, nothing about Fool for Love, getting a production from the proven capable L.I.P. Service Productions at Arts Fifth Avenue, indicates an intriguing piece. But, to paraphrase an old cliché, a book cannot be judged by its cover alone.
The distinguishing variable in this particular play about on again/off again lovers quarreling is the playwright of the show, Pulitzer Prize winner Sam Shepard. Over the course of a stunningly accomplished career, Shepard has established himself as a writer able to take a familiar situation and make it unfamiliar. And Fool for Love is no different.
Eschewing traditional plot structures, the play takes place in real time in one 75 minute burst, containing little semblance of a beginning, middle and end; a calling card of a Shepard play. The action gets off to a quick start when Eddie (Jason Levya) manages to track down his childhood friend and former flame May (Tanasha Friar) in an old motel in the Mojave Desert. Eddies simple motivation is to bring May back with him to the trailer they once shared which is now on a plot of land on which they’d once dreamed of having a farm. May is resistant and their subsequent interactions quickly throttle between low and intense and loud and bombastic emotion. Especially in the case of Eddie, who proves to be able to put booze back pretty quickly.
Complicating things is the fact that both have other people in their lives. Eddie has the present but unseen Countess and May has Martin (Sean Massey) who just so happens to be on his way to pick her up for a date.
And if that weren’t enough, Shepard employs a regular tool in his writing arsenal, the presence of a character who is not actually present—and in this case not even alive: The Old Man (Kit Hussey), who is closely connected to both characters and a large cause of the conflict. The characters can interact with him and do in several instances, often when one or the other are left alone with the Old Man, who is on stage the entire time, observing the events and later asserting himself.
This is the tell-tale key to understanding the writing of Sam Shepard. For though it is almost always deceptively realistic in subject and plot, what’s actually happening is a surrealistic character study, hence the nontraditional structure. It’s not the subject itself that is important. As mentioned, it’s not an all-too-unfamiliar setup. The characters are important, almost like a psychological study of the human condition, set askew by the inclusion of supernatural elements that allow these characters a more well-rounded development. It’s no mystery why Shepard is considered one of the great modern playwrights.
But despite these ethereal elements, the action is still very real and Shepard tends to ask a lot of his characters emotionally, this show being no different. And to that end, this cast, under the capable direction of Angel Davis, is up to the task.
Levya, always a strong performer, is maddeningly volatile as Eddie. His instability is his flaw and Levya finds that balance that gets the audience to root for his idealistic dreaming to the point that one feels compelled to tell him to calm down when he flies off the handle.
Friar is smoldering as May. Like Levy, Friar strikes a different balance between the desperate but strong woman. Her intensity is able to stop Eddie in his tracks at times as she makes it clear that she’s no pushover.
While the other two characters vault between extremes, Hussey is the only one of the four granted anything closely resembling a character arc. At first he appears to be a third party observer, but as he is implicated in the events of the plot his calm and cool demeanor gives way to a frenzied defense of his own character. It’s like an eruption that no one sees coming, making the end result all the more shocking and memorable.
L.I.P. Service, founded by Levya, is a group to take notice of. Starting a theater group so you can play a bunch of cool lead roles, which is at least the impression given considering that Levya tends to show up in lead roles of every L.I.P. Service production, is normally deserving of a gigantic eye roll. It stinks of someone who wasn’t able to get roles in the already crowded theater community. But that really isn’t the case here. For one, Levya has proven himself a talented actor. And secondly, at least part of the group’s mission appears to be mounting productions of critically lauded works that often get overlooked in place of more traditional “crowd pleasers” by other area theaters. With productions of David Mamet’s Oleanna and Jim Leonard Jr.’s The Diviners under their belt, both performed at Arts Fifth Avenue, L.I.P. Service is asserting itself as a group interested in giving audiences a taste of something different.
With Fool For Love, they’ve once again taken a critically acclaimed yet difficult piece and given it a worthy production.
In fact, as hard as the lives of the fools in the play are, people in the real world would only be foolish if they let this show go by without seeing it.