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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
Theater, Emily Mann is directing "Fool for Love" by Sam
one of America’s most forceful and intensely motivated writers.
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
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
In the simplest of terms, the play revolves around the tormented
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
shows up to rekindle their violently expressed passion, as well as
to redefine their volatile and destructive past. With the real
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
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
The room is given its shape by a panoramic curved green wall hosting
only one window with closed venetian blinds. Two doors serve to
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
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
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
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
attraction, "Fool for Love" has fallen prey, if not to the
passing of time itself, then to Mann’s inability to put all the
pieces of the play together.
609-258-2787. The Sam Shepard drama, directed by Emily Mann. To
October 3. $35 to $47.
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