BWW Interview: Gordon Joseph Weiss, the Cipher of FOOL FOR LOVE
FOOL FOR LOVE, Sam Shepard's brutally honest drama, grapples violently with infidelity, love and death. "All that in a 90-minute play," said Gordon Joseph Weiss, who plays The Old Man, a cipher who may or may not be a haunting memory. He sits in a chair without moving or saying a word in the play's early tense moments.
The setting is a cheap, drab motel room in the Mojave Desert, where May (Nina Arianda) and Eddie (Sam Rockwell) struggle physically and verbally with their tortured past. There will be blows. And lassoing. Shepard is not a playwright who dabbles sweetly in familial bonding. He's understandably ranked among the best, Weiss said, along with Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Edward Albee.
"You're panning for gold for whatever nugget there is," Weiss said. Let's just say there's a lot of gold. "This is my first full-rank Shepard play on this level," said Weiss. "All actors learning the craft are going to bump into him. There are so many moments that just take your breath away. It entices you to be in the moment and your listening is heightened," Weiss said of both the actors and the audience. "It may seem like a four-character play but there's really a fifth-the audience. They don't know what's going to happen.
"The focus is in the telling of the story beneath the story beneath the story," Weiss said. The complex relationships are a hallmark of a Shepard vehicle. "It's so in sync with the audience, you can feel it when they're holding their breath. It's palpable, it's amazing," Weiss said. It's a difficult play to describe without exposing crucial secrets, he said. "In every moment of the rehearsal process something would reveal itself not written on paper. And we found it.
"It may be a little messy and off balance, but we have room to move," Weiss said of the cast. One unscripted outburst was when Eddie kicked a hole in the wall.
"The other night a line was missed but we kept going. We're not purposely being risky or sensational," said Weiss. "You can just feel it.
"We know the material so well and we're devoted to the momentum and pace. It's like being jazz musicians. It's a piece of music," Weiss said. "We have an amazing group of people from the top down. Everybody is committed to this production because they get it."
Shepard came to many of the rehearsals.
"It was so cool watching Sam there for almost every show in the two weeks of previews," Weiss said. Shepard and the director, Daniel Aukin, would often huddle, whispering and making notes. "I can honestly say even since opening night, it's gotten even deeper, with more texture. It marinates. I have a unique opportunity planted in that chair until that Vesuvius moment when all comes undone. The way it's directed, you don't know if Eddie is going to go back and stalk May again in six months," Weiss said. "There's no clear-cut ending. He's gone for now, but... That's the brilliance of Shepard."
In other powerful scenes (well, they're all powerful scenes) Eddie puts spurs on his cowboy boots and picks up a lasso. He lassoes a chair, a bed post and May. He nailed it during a recent performance. "He usually does," Weiss said. "He was okay with it before but nowhere as proficient as now. He's very relaxed and accurate. It's rare that he'll miss that chair."
Weiss can easily envision the play being translated. "This story has probably been going on for many centuries. It would be interesting to see how a Japanese or Romanian company would interpret it," he said.
"Some nights it comes flying through with a velocity," Weiss said. "The Old Man is a crucial figure. We went through different ways to deliver The Old Man's energy. It's very subtle. In a few seconds there's an ethereal mystery about it.
The sculpting and re-sculpting of memory is almost like a Greek tragedy in the play, he said. "I like this ebb and flow. It can be so beautiful and full of ecstasy and at the same time, danger that would cut and you would bleed," Weiss said.
"The Old Man is a tortured human being. This amazingly built ship run aground. With Shepard you constantly see people going deeper and deeper because it calls you to do that. It's a hallmark of very good writing. It's no accident that these classics are done so often," Weiss said.
"When this story moves ahead, it's like grabbing the lapels of the audience and saying 'Come here, you're going to want to watch this,' said Weiss. "It's a bumpy little story with beautiful comedic moments that make it absolutely exciting."
Fool for Love is playing at the Manhattan Theatre Club at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street.