Sam Shepard’s high octane physicality and rowdy text can make mincemeat out of the most seasoned directors so I frankly wasn’t looking for a lot from an actor turned director for Keegan’s production of Fool For Love. But shame on me for underestimating the efforts of one of the finest theater companies in the metro area. Colin Smith delivered the goods with this one. With cowboy boots and spurs to match.
The one-act is relatively brief but packed with storytelling, re-imaginings, even an apparition-like mysterious “old man” who offers special commentary throughout and becomes more real as the scenes progress – at least real enough to get another hit of tequila upon request.
Smith obviously knows how to work with a powder keg of emotions and he lights the fuse under his actors for explosive energy. The action takes place in a seamy hotel room where Eddie and Mae fling themselves through a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from love to hate and everything in between. Mark A. Rhea as Eddie is a masterpiece as the old cowpoke Marlboro Man-wannabe, with an unshakeable swagger and a lasso from his side-kick rodeo gig. Rhea has a simmering visage you won’t want to mess with and does more with a seething look than words can do justice.
Larissa Gallagher as Mae is his equal with a hot flashing temperament that erupts like a stick of dynamite at the least provocation. With Shepard’s script, you never know what will set it off, you just sit and wait because you know it’s coming. But even then, you’re still not prepared for it– then kaboom!
The first few silent images set the scene with Eddie and Mae established on stage, her perched on the edge of the bed looking straight out into the audience as if ready to propel into the crowd, Eddie in several tense sitting positions on the old creaky chair changing on the beat with lighting cues beautifully rendered by designer Dan Martin. Before a word is spoken, the director has established a sense of rustic timelessness between the two with physical connections that you already know have gone on and will go on tumbling like cactus weed on a dusty trail. Whether he’s cajoling her to move from her position, or trying in vain to contain her once she lashes out at him for infidelity, or locking her in an inescapable embrace, their physical bond is intense—and rough. They knocked each other around so much at one point that the molding on the door frame popped off.
Their story is the fodder for countless country western songs lamenting who done what to whom. The accusations, the making up leading to making out, the back lashing retorts that unleash more accusations are unending and play out every day. We know these people, maybe dressed up in more sophisticated packaging, but the heated emotions feel as real as raw pain.
Relaying the sense of the “Old Man” played by Kevin Adams is another of the director’s fine touches. Adams sits slumped on a chair stage left designed to look like a rickety porch, doing absolutely nothing. The Old Man definitely has his say later when secrets are revealed and memories evoked, but at the onset, he reminds us what doing nothing looks like, a strange concept for the typical eager beavers in these here parts. The Old Man has his share of robust soliloquies reliving past history on par with Eddie and Mae, and Adams has just enough of the crusty façade to make it work.
His relationship to each of the characters adds shock value that Shepard leaks in measured portions before a walloping Ka Pow! that will provoke a double take of — “Did he really say that? Snap, Oh, yes he did” helping explain why the characters are so messed up. Only Martin, played with innocent charm by K.J. Thorarinsson has the attributes of a real person who wandered in the midst of the tortured souls stuck in the purgatory hotel in the Mojave Desert. They have a choice to get out, right? Who knows why they repeat the same crash and burn scenario time after time, year after year, but they do, and Keegan Theatre captures the hot hopelessness with bits of humor coursing through the seething insanity of it all.
Another reason I shouldn’t have doubted the director’s capability to tackle Shepard is his role as Assistant Director for last year’s Ireland touring production of Of Mice and Men. He’s back, directing Fool for Love, which just returned from this year’s Ireland tour. He is one to watch just as Keegan is one to be treasured, with a packed performance schedule including several world premieres underway. What a knockout way to launch a season.
Fool for Love
Written by Sam Shepard
Directed by Colin Smith
Produced by Keegan Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
FOOL FOR LOVE