Sam Shepard’s lyrical, chilling fantasy drama Fool For Love debuted at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre in 1983, starring the kick-ass Ed Harris and Kathy Baker. It won Obie Awards across the board, was nominated for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and has soared in multiple national and international revivals over the years plus in a film version. Shepard wrote it in reaction to a grueling divorce. “Falling in love is such a dumbfounding experience. In one way you wouldn’t trade it for the world. In another way it’s absolute hell.” A perfect descriptive of the seventy plus minute, no intermission play, it feels like a main character’s tortured, recurring nightmare, blending realistic moments of infatuation, lust, violence, disillusion and revulsion with impossible expectation of return to a idealized loving relationship that may have never existed. Isn’t that the way to remember long past stormy relationships? If only…never again…nostalgic, romantic longing for the “good times gone” crashes into utter disgust with the disappointing reality that blew it up? With Shepard, expect a heavy dose of emotional crescendo, driven by some of the most lyrical, potent, contemporary dialogue uttered on an English-speaking stage. Master of the craft? Absolutely.
The Classics Theatre Project attacks the play’s subject matter with unrelenting ferocity under the tight, naturalistic direction of respected regional playwright and stage/ film actor Van Quattro. The antagonistic relationship between main characters May and Eddie explodes spontaneously, following Shepard’s taut script arcs like a silk negligee ripped off a whore’s body an inch at a time, tosse on the floor as a knife twists into the heart. The play’s action takes place in a cheap desert motel room, but the emotion generated screeches and aches at an operatic angst level. A simple, yet treacherous, script, its sophistication must be honored and distilled, no extraneous moment allowed. Driving the story and manipulating the main characters like an ominous, all-knowing puppet-master/chorus, a grungy old man sits mostly off to the side in a rocking chair, tossing back whiskey, offering unwanted revelation, castigating and taunting, deriding both main characters towards the inevitable finale, the death of their relationship. The complication of the unexpected arrival of another man, an innocent “date” for May, adds another layer of fury and frustration. What fun to watch it all unravel.
Joey Folsom plays the male lead, rogue cowboy stuntman Eddie, demonstrating nuanced proficiency at playing difficult, entrancing, yet repulsive characters. Hate him? Love him? Are those alligator tears? Is he real or just a delusional nightmare in May’s memory bank, emerging to haunt her once more, all charm, or all snake in the grass? He seems so real, yet somehow fantastical, arising from a sordid past with promises of tranquility to come. Slap him hard, but don’t ever let him go. Folsom’s is an immersive performance; he’s perfect as Eddie. A skilled artist, he can cradle an audience ever so beguilingly while horrifying them. Chris Messersmith’s old man, presumably Eddie’s father, matches Folsom with curmudgeonly charm, masking a deep cruel streak and spitting out family secrets he can’t wait to reveal like heavy blows from a rusty axe. Like father, like son in complexity, need to dominate, the desire to maim and desert those loved. The female lead, May, presents the toughest challenge for an actor in the show. Her arcs emerge like a testy bucking bronc set upon by a hive of angry bees. Half mad and hysterical, raging, collapsing into her man’s arms one moment while kneeing him in the groin the next, she must follow Shepard’s carefully delineated beats and the character’s arcs on a split moment’s notice, as one who dreams hard might do. It’s full-on fantasy of the heart and mind writ large in a measured, ultra-realistic performance style. May’s connection to Eddie must read as visceral and all encompassing. On opening night Sasha Maya Ada as May fumbled with the connection. She seemed more focused on keeping up with blocking than living the character, which kept her from fully engaging with Folsom’s Eddie. I got the sense that once she has the first several performances under her belt she could rise to the play’s demands. As May’s unsuspecting “date” Martin, who arrives partway through the play, Braden Socia had a challenge to meet. A late substitute casting after another actor left the show, he had to play catch-up to become part of the tight ensemble. As secure an actor as he must be to pull this off, he also seemed to fumble with arc and motivation. In this production Quattro directed him as the play’s comic relief, a goofy “guy” who never quite grasps the depth of explosive chaos he has wandered into or pushes back effectively. I question if this is how Shepard envisioned the character. As a clueless fop he is never a match for Folsom’s Eddie and never increases the play’s dramatic tension, mano a mano. Indeed, is he what May wishes Eddie could have been, or a fantasy rival to wipe him off the earth’s face? The play veers sharply into darkness at every turn. I wonder if Socia will find himself inhabiting a more combative persona as performances continue. Still, I’m fascinated. This is most likely the best-written play on Dallas stages at the moment. Critic’s quibbles aside, I applaud this new company for its honest, powerful, forthright production. Eddie speaks a rambling monologue in a surprisingly reflective moment, one of the most austere and evocative monologues I’ve witnessed in a long time. Folsom’s delivery is effortless, poignant, breath-taking. Please support this company in its worthy endeavor. I intend to revisit to see how it grows.
Fool For Love runs through March 30 at Fair Park’s intimate Margo Jones Theater.
For tickets go to TheClassicsTheatreProject.com
Eddie, excerpt: Fool For Love:
“It was a hot, desert breeze and the air smelled like new cut alfalfa. We walked right up to
the front porch and he rang the bell and I remember getting real nervous
because I wasn’t out for expecting to visit anybody. I thought we were just out
for a walk. And then this woman comes to the door. This real pretty woman with
red hair. And she throws herself into his arms. And he starts crying. He just
breaks down right there in front of me. And she’s kissing him all over the face
and holding him real tight and he’s just crying like a baby. And then through the
doorway, behind them both. I see this girl.”