By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
So when does charisma and charm switch to malevolence and menace? That's the turning point you're waiting for when you sit down to Sam Shepard's Fool for Love. It doesn't take long to get there. But once you do, the wave-like motion between these opposing alliterations will continue cycling throughout the play's manifestations of love, lust, hate, desperation and... golly... this certainly doesn't sound like anything you'd want to go see.
But you do. The production, by the upstart Take Heed Theater Company -- performed with skill by those who love the stage, as Take Heed clearly does in its maiden voyage -- supports one reason we go to see plays in the first place: to way overthink our dirty human experience.
When it comes to Fool for Love's main characters, Eddie and May, played by Dave Hyland and Niki Fridh, all one can say, to bastardize Edward Albee's Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, is "Eddie and May: sad, sad, sad." Rodeo cowboy Eddie has driven many hours to be deposited in the bare motel room at the Mojave Motor Court, where his love object, May, is sitting on the edge of her bed, an emotionally spent figure, building up energy like a capacitor to prepare for the onset of crazy storms of crazy love.
In May's motel room, the walls are stained. The small table appears shaky, the bed looks uncomfortable, and the window lets in floods of light from cars passing outside. May's room is every dingy motel room on the wayside of every highway of American loneliness.
But this is home for May, at least for now. She calls it her "house," although she keeps everything in the bathroom, the only safe place, where glasses stored in the medicine cabinet are ready for a tequila-fueled night of catching up, as it were. The primary question, though, centers on what exactly is Eddie to May and May to Eddie, and why have they been orbiting each other for 15 years? Also, who the hell is that guy known as the Old Man, sitting stage left sipping booze from a styrofoam cup?
For the moment, though, disregard the Old Man and consider the orbit of Eddie and May:
Eddie: You know we're connected, May. We'll always be connected. That was decided a long time ago.
May: Nothing was decided. You made all that up.
For nearly four decades, Sam Shepard has been the graceful chronicler of what we now think of as Jerry Springer America. What's often pointy about Shepard's plays of American rootlessness, though, is that they don't always promise the much-hoped-for positive side of American rootlessness -- reinvention. No, there's no reinvention here in Fool, only folky cycles of obsession. As long as May exists, it seems, Eddie will orbit her in a totally ragged, non-Keplerian, unplanetary kind of way.
Director Don Butler focuses this orbit well, coolly negotiating the jagged revolutions of his crossed lover stars and drawing out the kind of performances required to make Fool for Love a success. The actors playing Eddie and May must transcend Shepard's textbook twang to give full range to their harsh, vulnerable characters. Hyland and Fridh serve the occasion well. Fridh puts much passion into her May as she oscillates from anger to seduction. Hyland, an anchor of Mod 27, Take Heed's improv group cousin, fully draws out Eddie's unstable mayhem while also offering unsuspected gags -- Eddie is a totally spur-of-the-moment kind of guy -- that help round out his character's volatility.
May and Eddie aren't the only ones here, though. There's also Martin -- played with selfless obsequiousness by Jack Lawson -- May's gentleman suitor, who becomes the innocent audience for Eddie and May's destructive performances as they reconstruct their sordid history. In the story they tell him -- which inspires a perfectly wide-eyed, quiet performance by Lawson -- you can see how the tale told many times before will be told many more times hence in whatever dark motel rooms await them.
Shepard's plays often dwell on the son-and-the-father orbit. And in Fool, the Old Man, played naturally by a richly menacing Howard Elfman, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, lingers to spook up the place (wait, wasn't that Sam Shepard himself playing the ghost in the awful Ethan Hawke Hamlet movie?). Is the Old Man a memory conjured by Eddie and May, or is the entire play just the Old Man's dream? Hmm...
Hamlet couldn't escape his father's ghost as he walked gloomily through Denmark. So why should Eddie get off clean? The thing about Denmark, though, is that it's just Denmark, a tiny fart of a place (with apologies, of course, to Niels Bohr, Soren Kierkegaard, and the proprietors of Legoland). But this is the big American West, goddamn it. Shouldn't you be able to run away from your father's ghost if you have thousands of square miles of free territory to roam? Clearly not. There is no space large enough to escape from Dad.
"I'm not leaving," Eddie keeps saying with slippery reassurance from beginning to end. But Eddie, May, and the rest of us know better. Fool for Love is all about leaving amid the promise, or threat, of staying. Take your pick of interpretation. When the leaving happens, however, you might assume these critters will be back for more. It may be a different motel room along a different highway, but they'll be back. Funny how orbits are like that.