Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was published by U.S. 1

Newspaper on September 22, 1999. All rights reserved.

Review: `Fool For Love’

To open her 10th season as artistic director of

McCarter

Theater, Emily Mann is directing "Fool for Love" by Sam

Shepard,

one of America’s most forceful and intensely motivated writers.

Whether

or not it is Mann’s wish to help us search out the metaphors, discover

the symbolism, or consider the social implications in this vicious,

yet no longer shocking, 16-year-old play, we may also choose to simply

sit back and wallow in the mind-bending/body-battering material.

In this very brutal play that glorifies the perseverance and

perversity

of human nature, strong feelings are ignited both in the play’s two

pivotal protagonists and in us. When the text appears weakened by

its staging and by a key performance, those strong feelings are not

forthcoming.

In the simplest of terms, the play revolves around the tormented

incestuous

relationship of Eddie and May, a half brother and sister, who have

been in and out of love with each other for the past 15 years. Unable

to either live with or without each other, one or the other

periodically

shows up to rekindle their violently expressed passion, as well as

to redefine their volatile and destructive past. With the real

appearance

of May’s new boyfriend and the metaphysical appearance of an old man

with secrets, the truth and half-truths of their relationship are

exposed. Part of the power of "Fool for Love" usually comes

from the stifling claustrophobic atmosphere of the setting, a small,

seedy, and almost bare motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert.

This aspect of the play is sorely missed, as evoked in the great

expanse

of the McCarter stage by designer Robert Brill. Our attention is first

drawn to the old man on a rocking chair placed on the thrust part

of the stage, a long narrow stretch of white rocks, sagebrush and

desert. A red neon sign alternately blinks EAT, SLEEP in the black

expanse above the motel room that is big enough for an army barracks.

A pair of naked light bulbs dangles loosely over a white wrought-iron

bed. Taking up a little more of the vast space are a small table with

two chairs.

The room is given its shape by a panoramic curved green wall hosting

only one window with closed venetian blinds. Two doors serve to

bookend

this unsettling setting, made more unsettling by the surreal use of

echoes that resonate thunderously with every slam of the door and

fling of a body. More funny than frightening, the sound effects are

distracting.

I have seen this play done with more confining sets

that gave us the feeling that Eddie and May might at any moment be

capable of pulling down the walls around them. This current setting

only succeeds in neutralizing the inherent force of a dense steamy

arena. Also the power of the verbal interplay between Eddie and May

is diminished when we have to keep our eyes moving, as at a tennis

match, from one end of the court to the other. May is an uncommonly

rough and also mysteriously vague role, with much of her complexity

left in the shadows.

Although Laila Robins’ lovely, sensitive and authoritative presence

has graced many a Broadway play, and though her appearances on New

Jersey stages have been generally acclaimed, she is badly miscast.

Despite the tight red dress and bare feet I could not help but think

that this May was really "The Philadelphia Story’s" Tracey

Lord gone-a-slumming. Although Robins gets to hurl a chair across

the room, guzzle tequila, and otherwise assault Eddie during their

frequent bouts, she appears more self conscious than spontaneous.

To be fair, Robins is ultimately affecting after the faux fighting

subsides, and as she opens the wounds of May’s fears and frustrations.

There is genuine pain reflected in May’s long monologue, in which

we can feel her trying to get in touch with her true identity.

All the realism and ritualistic machismo one could want is present

in lanky and dirty James Morrison’s Eddie, the smelly primitive stunt

man who breaks through the barriers of fact and fiction. Always

present

in Morrison’s performance is the feral force that keeps him bouncing

off the walls.

Mark Hammer is especially fine as the Old Man who resides as the

father

in the mind of Eddie and May, but who also presides over the combat

like a tired referee with no strength left for rules, recriminations,

or regrets. The most impressive performance comes from Glenn Fleshler,

who, in the minimally written role of May’s naive virtually terrorized

boyfriend Martin, offers a humorous and endearing portrait of a nerd

who tries to rise to the occasion. For all the intense talk about

being victims of the past, the sins of their father and their

consuming

attraction, "Fool for Love" has fallen prey, if not to the

passing of time itself, then to Mann’s inability to put all the

fragmented

pieces of the play together.

Fool For Love, McCarter Theater, 91 University

Place,

609-258-2787. The Sam Shepard drama, directed by Emily Mann. To

Sunday,

October 3. $35 to $47.


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