Shepard's "Fool For Love' in Norristown

Breaking up is hard to do

Altman, Pauls: Love and hate, with a touch of Nietzsche.
Altman, Pauls: Love and hate, with a touch of Nietzsche.

Sam Shepard's Fool For Love is about people who can't let go. May and Eddie may be miserable together, but they won't end it.

Only in the play's last few minutes do we learn why. A secret is revealed that explains most of what we've seen.

Stephen Sondheim parodied such obsessions in Follies with "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me-Oh-You-Do-I'll-See-You-Later Blues." But Fool For Love is no parody. It takes such behavior very seriously as it portrays a 30-something man and woman who hate their relationship but can't stay away from each other.

Shepard wrote his highly personal Fool For Love in 1984 after ending his marriage and commencing a relationship with the actress Jessica Lange. He said then that the play was "the outcome of all this tumultuous feeling I've been going through this past year."

I, too, couldn't avoid viewing Fool For Love subjectively, albeit from a different perspective: I learned long ago that when a woman says she's through, the best response is to leave and not return. So the tempestuous struggles of Shepard's self-absorbed couple grated on my nerves.

Stomping out the door

At the climax of this one-act play, we realize that Shepard wants to grate on our nerves. His carefully manipulated plot developments ultimately bring catharsis. After a violent act, Eddie stomps out the door of their motel room and May follows him, suggesting that they'll repeat the vicious cycle again.

(I realize I'm being cryptic about the plot, but I can't give away the ending, in case you never saw the play or its movie version.)

In addition to love-hate issues, Fool For Love touches on a need that Nietzsche once observed for sons to act out the secrets of their fathers. It also explores the enduring connection between Mexico and the American West. (The very American word cowboy is derived from the Spanish caballero.)

Ideal claustrophobia

You could argue that Shepard's script might be too contrived, but you can't deny the impact of this powerful production. Michelle Pauls is intensely convincing as May, and Adam Altman makes an earnest Eddie. For his role as a cowboy stunt man— recalling Shepard's own youthful job as a stable hand at a horse ranch— Altman even mastered the art of using a lasso.

Dave Fiebert is fine as an old man who sits in an upstage corner, unnoticed by the other actors. Is he imaginary? Is he related to either the man or the woman? His presence deliberately confuses us until the play's denouement. Sean Close agreeably embodies a well-intentioned bystander.

The Centre Theater's stage is small, but it's perfect for the claustrophobic motel room where Fool For Love takes place. Randall Wise and John Doyle provided the taut direction and design, with dramatically echoing sound by Luke Moyer.

Shepard is known for setting many of his plays in the Southwest. But his characters possess a universal appeal. Fool For Love could work even if it were set on, say, an Eastern college campus with Eddie as a professor. I for one would welcome a rewrite that tried such an adaptation.

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