Sam Shepard's Fool for Love is possibly the dramatist's most accessible play--simple, potent, lyrically charged and highly actable--yet it suffers from the limitation of a fairly static situation, and characters to match. Eddie, a cowboy, and May, the young woman in and out of whose life he wanders, squabble and brawl through an evening in the latter's dingy Texas hotel room. May keeps demanding that Eddie leave, tugging him back into the room whenever he begins to storm out. As in real life, where most of us have seen or played out the same scene, this has strong potential for tedium.
The triumph of Planet Earth Multi-Cultural Theatre's production of Fool for Love is that the tedium never sets in. Director Peter James Cirino has staged the play in a deliberately flat, naturalistic style. The actors speak Shepard's Lone Star poetry with a conversational nonchalance, under exactly the sort of ugly, glaring light you'd expect to find in such a setting--when Eddie and May tussle, we could be watching a "domestic" on TV's Cops.
Counting Robert Altman's 1985 film, this is the fourth production of Fool I've sampled, and it's the rawest, the least slick. The effect of the atmosphere of reality that the director and cast create is paradoxical--behavior that would, in real life, make you bang on the walls or call the cops becomes fascinating here. The loose, performance-artsy feel of the acting style, the superbly convincing set, the gritty PET space itself combine to produce unusual authenticity.
Eddie (Eric Woods), a studly calf roper, has surprised May (Mollie Kellogg Cirino) while she's waiting for a date. She's stunned to see him--he's been gone a long time--and none too pleased, yet she instinctively clings to him when he moves toward the door--she knows that if he says he's going out to the car for a minute, he may be heading for Wyoming.
At points throughout the action, from some limbo of beer and country music, the ghost of an Old Man (Tom Collins) addresses skewed, enigmatic remarks and wistful tales of the past to May and Eddie; he seems to have a connection to them both. At last, Martin, May's hapless, mild-mannered date (Anthony Andrews), shows up and, gradually, he and we get the whole story on this tempestuous pair and their invisible third wheel.
The ensemble is impressive. Mollie Kellogg Cirino's May is highly mannered, but, in light of the character's baggage, this seems ultimately appropriate. The actress has a wonderfully game, rough-and-tumble physicality, and her voice makes lovely, plangent music without revealing her technique.
Woods' Eddie is no less on the beam. He plays the wild boy with sexy, unpredictable charm, but without any hokey whooping it up. And he gives this frenetic rowdy undercurrents of tenderness, fear, sadness, desperation, gallantry and humor.
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Andrews serviceably manages his duties as Martin, the onstage audience, but Collins' Old Man is the performance which sticks in the memory most vividly. Collins, a first-time actor (though a sometime standup comic), is a real find--a physical and vocal ringer for Brian Doyle-Murray, he delivers his lines with an unaffected ease and simplicity that add to their richness.
If you're unfamiliar with the play going in, be sure to avoid reading the description on the program's cover, as it gives away the story's major midpoint revelation. It's the one touch of foolishness in this otherwise loving production.
Fool for Love continues through Saturday, June 15, at Planet Earth Multi-Cultural Theatre, 909 North Third Street.