When Sam Shepard’s “Fool For Love” opened on Broadway in 1983, the reviewer for The Wall Street Journal commented: “This show will make you sweat.” Well, almost a quarter century later, the strong production at the Princeton Summer Theater on the university campus will certainly do the same.
It is the fourth and final offering of what has been an exciting, challenging, risk taking summer schedule, and this one hour masterpiece closing an ambitious summer has everything — a superb cast of extraordinary talented young actors, direction that clearly understands playwright Shepard completely, and wonderful technical experts.
With Shepard the shows are not so much about plot as they are about situation. Here we are in a decrepit motel on the edge of the Mohave Desert. The fools of the title are a pair of battling former lovers, Eddie and May — old flames from their high school days, but now thoroughly broken up. He has tracked her down and wants her to accompany him to Wyoming where he apparently has always wanted to go. She refuses him firmly.
In due course we will meet the old man who is sitting silently to one side, drinking constantly from a paper bag wrapped bottle. He turns out to be the father of both Eddie and May, and it turns out that they are half-brother and sister, but for a long time, didn’t know it. The father is happy to give advice, even if no one bothers to listen. And we will also meet Martin, May’s latest boyfriend. Martin clearly is learning everything for the first time (as indeed we are.) It’s a typical Sam Shepard play — we may not believe all of the information, we may not want to and perhaps it is not all true.
The four argue, often with great passion, but no decisions are reached, no minds are changed. May refuses to leave, so Eddie takes off, then May leaves, and then the lights fade on stage. As the audience starts up the aisle, a most intelligent middle-aged lady asks her husband: “what was that all about?” He shrugs. A typical Sam Shepard evening — done brilliantly
Director Ogemdi Ude realizes that the work is a masterpiece of understatement and illusion. Simple words escalate into explosive action as the actors tear into each other. And the cast is up to the task and growing in expertise. Olivia Nice (May) and Matthew Seely (Eddie) already have begun acting careers — she in New York City and he in regional theaters. Connor McElwee (Martin) has begun his career in Philadelphia theater. And New York based Jake McCready plays the old man to perfection, an alcoholic, disconnected figure who can’t communicate, but is trying so hard to make it all work.
Likewise the technical staff: Joseph Haggerty (sound designer) and lighting designer Alex Mannix are both returning the Princeton for their fourth summers. So has set designer Jeffrey Van Velsor.
Together they contribute mightily to what the Washington Post declared was “a typical Sam Shepard desperation-at-the-edge-of-the -desert-tale.” And you won’t see it done better — anywhere.
“Fool For Love,” Murray Dodge Theater on the University campus through August 14, Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., $24.50 to $29.50, 609-258-7062 or www.princetonsummertheater.org.