The world of Sam Shepard's 1983 play Fool for Love is a surreal one where love and relationships are twisted and incomplete, and time circles back on itself. The deeper we dig, the more incoherent things seem. New Edgecliff Theatre is offering a staging of this classic play. It's worth seeing (the play won an Obie Award for Best New American Play), although this production places more emphasis on the play's comic façade than its tragic core.
May (Cat Cook) lives in a grungy motel at the edge of the Mojave Desert (a nicely detailed set design by Russell Ihrig), where she works as a cook. She's astounded when Eddie (Nathan Neorr) appears, having driven — he claims — 2,480 miles to find her. It's evident that she and the rodeo rider have had a relationship that's run hot and cold over a period of 15 years.
The nature of their connection is revealed in snatches of story-telling and drunken reminiscence, much from the Old Man (Robert Allen), who sits in a rocking chair on the side of the stage, drinking from a bottle in a paper bag, commenting on the action and occasionally interacting with Eddie or May. It's evident that he is more a character in memory than someone they're presently interacting with. But it's even more clear that he's connected to them through some strange history, which is revealed in bits and pieces as we learn about their troubled past. The play's title could be applied to May or Eddie — or even the Old Man. They've all been "fooled" by love.
In fact, the play's title is also an apt description of the fourth character, geeky Martin (Jason Burgess), a casual date who arrives to take May to a movie. He gets considerably more drama than he's bargained for, in large part because of his own foolish innocence. He is mainly present to provoke conversation and revelation. When Eddie tells Martin he could save money on dates with May by staying in her hotel room and making up stories, the dweeby gardener says, "That would be lying, wouldn't it?"
Well, yes, it would. That's the mystery at the core of Fool for Love: What is story-telling? What is the truth? And what is lying? Eddie is not to be believed, and the Old Man's versions of the past are self-serving and transparently unreliable. May has created her own reality, too — driven by Eddie's unfaithfulness and a defensive reconstruction of her own origins. In fact, we can never completely believe anything we hear from these characters. And yet the play's cumulative effect is that the tragic connections between these three are revealed with a sad and believable veracity, well beyond the extravagant overt claims each makes about his or her past.
While Neorr and Cook are a tad young for their roles, they have the right acting tools for their complex roles, although director Greg Procaccino has kept them focused on the surface humor of their lines (Shepard can write sardonic dialogue better than almost any playwright I know of) rather than the tragedy within. Too often the pair go through the motions of love and hate without showing the complex layers of profound feeling that must be driving them. Shepard's script masks much of this with glib quips and extreme overstatement, especially in the script's first half-hour (the entire production takes about 70 minutes without an intermission). But for Fool for Love to work, we need to gradually understand that there's something deeper and more troubling.
The Old Man is the catalyst for Eddie and May's conflicted revelations. But Procaccino has had Allen spin the Old Man's yarns that have the audience chuckling rather than feeling increasingly creeped out by what's being revealed.
All involved are fine actors, and this is a challenging script to present convincingly. They're about halfway there — perhaps during the play's three-week run, they'll get closer. Grade: B
FOOL FOR LOVE, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre, continues through May 26 at the Columbia Performance Center.