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Jeremy O’Brien & Katie Bechtler. Photo: Salvage Productions.
Fool for Love
By Sam Shepard
Directed by Neil Brewer
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The great playwrights touch on the truths that lie beneath the surface. Before I went to see this new production of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love (1983) I had been thinking about cycles, in particular how a new book I had just started outlined the rise of a reactionary conservative political movement built in part upon a fear of immigrants and divergent ideology. It swept a Republican into the White House after several years of progressive Democrat administration. It may sound familiar, but the book was describing the United States of 1952.
Fool is a play about being trapped in a viscous cycle. The story of a dangerously obsessive relationship between former lovers Mae (Katie Bechtler) and Eddie (Jeremy O’Brien) comes to a head in a shabby motel room in the Mojave Desert. As an Old Man (Michael McCollum) observes from a corner, Mae fights against Eddie’s demands that she come away with him. The conflict is mostly verbal, but also physical, although Eddie refrains from using his onstage lasso on Mae. When her date, Martin (Will Gantt) arrives, Eddie takes advantage of a new audience for their sordid history.
The Old Man has already filled in some of that past, and his enigmatic presence is never fully explained. He seems to be a phantom in Eddie’s mind, but eventually, his full meaning is revealed, and the depth of Mae and Eddie’s tragedy is explained. They are caught in an elemental cycle of pain and bitterness that they seem unable to escape. It is as if their actions are in the service of the fates.
Shepard keeps this a one-act because there really is no plot, just a prolonged moment of observation of two souls locked in a tempest, and he leaves us with a palpable sense of helplessness. Fool for Love offers no escapist’s optimism, and the tone is as bleak as most of his great works, all of which are about a twisted view of the dysfunctional American family.
The tight running time of just less than one hour makes this a particular kind of actor’s showcase, at least for the characters of Mae and Eddie. The roles are packed for a full-length play and are ripe for scenery chewing, but director Neil Brewer helps Katie Bechtler and Jeremy O’Brien navigate the high-spirited conflict with restraint. O’Brien is adept at lighter roles, so he is cast against type here, but he employs his tall, rangy physicality to realize the cowboy in Eddie with confidence. Katie Bechtler pushes her self-righteous fury to the front a little sooner than might seem advisable, but she is fierce in showing how desperately Mae tries to stop Eddie from trapping her in this pool of misery. There is a nice contrast of energy in these two performances that work well in the service of the play.
Michael McCollum might not be as crusty as I would like to imagine the Old Man to be, but his understated work is effective and he does a good job building to his crucial moments. Martin is introduced largely for Eddie to have someone to whom he can tell the story, but Shepard gives the character enough personality to prevent him from being merely a device, and Will Gantt brings him alive with spirit and a charming sheepishness.
The production does leave some of the finer qualities of Shepard’s play on the table – it misses the haunting mystery underlying Mae and Eddie’s relationship; Buried Child also has that surreal, timeless aspect, but this is an intelligent run at a difficult piece with a game cast playing outside of their comfort zones, and I always welcome that.
Fool for Love is presented under the banner of Neil Brewer’s Salvage Productions, which seems to emerge from the clouds, every couple of years for the purpose of satisfying Mr. Brewer’s itch to challenge himself with a particular play. While we otherwise look to theatre companies to mount a steady season of plays that fulfill a certain mission, the idea of one that answers a feeling of yearning in its Artistic Director seems to represent an important degree of independence; an artist making work beholden only to the collaborators that sign on for the ride, and, of course, the audience.
Fool for Love
July 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 2018 @ 7:30pm
Salvage Productions at
The Bard’s Town Theater
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.