The swagger of Sam Shepard has always intrigued me. His electric passion and intensity. Layered with humor and abstractionism. He seems like a straightforward cowboy but he’s always a bit off, showing us a deeper level of love, passion and vulnerability. Usually laced with hostility, anger and sexual aggressiveness. So when I saw MTC was doing a revival of Sam Shephard’s play, Fool for Love starring Nina Arianda (the incredible powerhouse in the explosive Venus in Fur), I couldn’t resist the urge to watch the fireworks. And coupled with the quirky sexiness of Sam Rockwell (who I adored in the film, The Way Way Back), it just seemed like a match made in cowboy heaven. Sparks would fly.
And did they ever. Directed by Daniel Aukin, this Williamstown Theatre Festival transfer to the Samuel J Friedman Theatre by MTC packs that powerful punch we would expect from a Shephard play. The two leads are obsessed with each other. Barely able to be apart, and almost sick with a fever of separation. They push and pull at each other, grabbing at each other and shoving and punching the other to the wall, angrily trying to stay away while holding tight to the rope that entwines them. Arianda (May) and Rockwell (Eddie) are charged by each other. The sparks of desire and hatred bounce off every wall in that exacting Mojave desert hotel room (perfectly crafted set: Dane Laffrey; and lighting: Justin Townsend )that May has tried to hide away in from Eddie. But Eddie finds her, as if he can track her like a herding dog to a lost cow. The erotic chemistry and the heat is powerful to all, even to the Old Man (a spot on Gordon Joseph Weiss) who sits watching the battle transpire.
Who is this old man, and what is he there for? He’s a story teller and part of the twisted story. And he weaves himself in when May and Eddie seem to need him. He is also one of two characters who are witness to the stories told by May and Eddie, stories of how they came to be entwined to each other. Many stories are told in beautiful poetic prose by these three, but each claim the other is lying. The fourth character is a sweet lost man, unfortunate to be arriving to take May out on a movie date on the same night as Eddie’s arrival. Martin (a simple and sweet Tom Pelphrey) is also trapped by these two. He wants to leave this uncomfortable space but also wants to hear how this story ends. Both the one being told and the one playing out in front of his eyes. Much like us. We are glued to our seats, in for the ride, wanting to hear and see this out to the bitter bitter end.