“Fool for Love”—  A Rattlesnake Riff of the Heart

By Ernest Kearney  —  Fool for Love by Sam Shepard is not a tidy play.

In fact, as far as theatrical experiences go, it shares many of the same traits as Elizabethan bear-baiting; brutal and violent—with no discernible objective other than to flaunt brutality and violence.

The elements within the play are stripped to their stark essentials: a man, a woman, love, hate, the past, the present, reality and memory.

The piece, which was on the short list for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for drama, has no beginning.  Shepard just heaves us into the pit with the “bears” in the middle of their “baiting.”

In a shabby motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, Eddie (Andrew Dits), a strutting testament to testosterone overload, switches between trying to implore or strong-arm, the tempestuous and feral May (Sophia Silver), to come and cohabit with him in a trailer up in the wilds of Wyoming.

This is not a love story however, this is more of a slasher film, but one where the instruments of mayhem are emotions in place of chainsaws and bladed gloves.

With May every caress claws at the flesh, every embrace is a death grip and every kiss is with fangs bared.  Immediately evident is that these two are caught in a maelstrom of history, history of the sort the Armenian and Turks share.  That history is personified on stage by The Old Man (George Oliver Hale).  He is the unseen phantom of their pain, the specter of their suffering.

Eventually a fourth character appears, Martin (John Ruby), a hapless soul who’s made a date with May, only to unknowingly stumble into the barbed wire and shell-cratered no-man’s-land that is her relationship with Eddie.  In a Biblical framing, Martin is the Adam figure, the gardener, to May’s Eve and Eddie’s serpent.  Murky Biblical references clutter the stage.

He’s just a date,” May shouts in defense of Martin.

Well I’m gonna turn him into a fig,” snarls back Eddie in an allusion to the forbidden fruit before a mistranslation rendered it an “apple.”

There is no anagnorisis here, no epiphany, no denouement, not even a climax really, no revelations – well there is one, but that so broadly and often hinted at that the shocking secret comes as hardly a shock.

What there is in abundance is language; some of it borderline cliché, some approaching bare-fisted poetry.  Otherwise the piece is pure conflict, a primal conflict, that inundates the stage like a tsunami.

Jack Knoll of Newsweek described the original New York production, which arrived there from San Francisco’s Magic Stage as “a rattlesnake riff.”   The play has been called “mysterious and unsettling,” “ponderous, imponderable,” and it is all that.

It is also, in the fullest sense of the word, a mess and, as such, is perhaps an apt reflection of Shepard’s life at that point in his career, presenting “love” as a blood sport.

But whatever Shepard’s play is or isn’t, the Beetlebung Road, LLC production, at the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood is stunningly sublime and superbly entertaining.

Dits is a bit too old for the role of Eddie but the intensity his performance burns with blinds the audience to this slight defect.

The character of Martin is perplexing, apparently a “tritagonist,” a third character introduced in the play merely to provide Eddie with an additional target.

The Old Man functions like a deus ex machina that’s never allowed to descend.

Ruby and Hale, however, surmount the difficulties of their two hugely difficult roles with aplomb.

Silver is the “bear” in this pit.  She rages and lashes continuously, but never without allowing us to glimpse the pain provoking her.

David Goldstein has given a first-rate cast a first-rate set. Director Kymberly Harris has served the needs of her cast, while clarifying the intent of the playwright with an artistry that has formed and shaped without intruding or over-burdening the staging once.  In a play as volatile as this, that is a hallmark of directorial skills of the first order.

And a nod must go to producer Racquel Lehrman of Theatre Planners.  I’ve not been impressed by the past efforts of this production firm and have not been shy about saying so.  Well, as my Aunt Grace would remark, “Shut my mouth wide open.”   You’ve impressed me this time.

At the end what transpires on the stage of Fool for Love provides no answers and may strike some as pointless, and this may explain why in this time where we have come to distrust answers while embracing “conspiracies” over explanations, Shepard has been heralded as the playwright of the age.

This production of Fool for Love allows audiences the opportunity to decide themselves if he is.

(NOTE: Pictured in main image:  Sofia Silver and Andrew Ditts, “Fool for Love” — Photo by Kymberly Harris)

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Fool for Love

ran

December 6 – 15

at the

Lounge Theatre
6201 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90038

For updated information click HERE

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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