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BWW Reviews: Explosive FOOL FOR LOVE at Williamstown Theatre Festival


When May and Eddie (Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell) get together in FOOL FOR LOVE after years apart, decades of pent up emotion explode on the Nikos Stage of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. In this concise 75 minute play, the pair discovers they are half-siblings. They have a common father (Gordon Joseph Weiss) - who sits stage left throughout the proceedings reacting to their story, interjecting comments and bounding onto the set at one point to rant at the pair.

Unwittingly, the clueless half brother and sister first me and played around in high school, then went on to develop a full blown relationship that hit the rocks ages ago, yet something still binds them together. This passion is at the core of Shepard's raw and emotion-drenched drama. Like watching a catastrophic storm destroy the foundations of people's lives, we watch the two lovers as they both cling to each other like life rafts even as they try to flee from the tumultuous waters of their own unpredictable relationship.

FOOL FOR LOVE was written 30 ago, yet like so much of Shepard's work it still holds us in its thrall. The pair confront their passion for each other, and the inevitable pain that May will feel when Eddie's wanderlust kicks in again. The script is at times subtle with much to read between the lines, a masterpiece of understatement and allusion. But as with Sam Shepard plays, the words escalate into explosive action, the actors tearing at each other like mortal enemies.

The action takes place in May's seedy motel room. Eddie has traveled thousands of miles to find her, and yet immediately settles in, practicing his rodeo lasso tricks, swigging beer and cleaning his shotgun as if they had never been apart. May is in a state of controlled panic, fearful she will fall for him again, so when Eddie isn't looking, she packs her suitcase in order to make a quick getaway. It's kind of a Greek tragedy set in the middle of the Mojave desert. Shepard's play reaches for the deep core emotions of humanity which have not changed over the millennia.

FOOL FOR LOVE is being performed for for the first time in Massachusetts and is directed by Daniel Aukin, whose staging is alternately down to earth and yet often edgy and experimental as the characters go for a heightened reality. Shepard is a brilliant theatrical writer, with a great ear for realistic dialogue. His protagonists are able to command the stage with a monologue as well as with volatile action, and Aukin fully understands this. Eddie, May and May's hapless date Martin (Christopher Abbott) are thrown together in the motel room while The Father sits off to the side, making comments and corrections to the stories, and barging on stage at one point to rant at his children.

While Rockwell and Arianda are at the center of the play, the other characters facilitate the storytelling. After Abbot's spectacular arrival as the boyfriend Martin, her date is calmed down, stammering to find his words, and becomes the foil for a pair of long monologues which explores Eddie and May's history. All the while the Father (Weiss) communicates clearly the blind self-absorption that has allowed him to ruin so many lives yet emerge seemingly unscathed either physically and emotionally.

Enhancing the four superb performers, the technical crew adds still more depth to the play. For example Ryan Rumery's sound design surprises us by amplifying the finality of slamming doors. Justin Townsend's lighting morphs at times from a bland motel room to sensuously crepuscular lighting. Sometimes the light changes mean everyone is in silhouette except the storyteller. Also impressive is the multi-dimensional effect of auto headlights. These integral effects enhance the hyper-reality that Shepard is so famous for. Even the stage set is elongated, like a Cinemascope screen, perhaps to pay homage to all those John Ford westerns that used to fill our lives.

Overall, this is one of those happy theatrical events when every aspect of the production - script, direction, acting, set, lighting, sound effects, costumes - cames together for a truly transporting evening of theatre.

Rockwell invested Eddie with a grittiness and surly braggadocio that rings true while Arianda's May is both visceral and feisty. The two totally committed performances are of the kind that will remain in the memory for years to come. At a press briefing during rehearsals Arianda and Rockwell said they really enjoyed working together and with Aukin on this production., The resultant synergy gives this FOOL FOR LOVE real gusto. The Williamstown Theatre Festival has delivered another masterpiece of great theatre in the bucolic Berkshires of Massacusetts where summer theatre is as special as the beauty of its hills.

Williamstown Theatre Festival presents Fool for Love by Sam Shepard, Daniel Aukin -Director; Dane Laffrey - Scenic Designer; Anita Yavich - Costume Designer; Justin Townsend - Lighting Designer; Ryan Rumery - Sound Designer.
Cast: Christopher Abbott - Martin; Nina Arianda - May; Sam Rockwell- Eddie; Gordon Joseph Weiss - The Old Man. 70 minutes without intermission. July 23-August 2, 2014 at the Nikos Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Main Street, Williamstown, MA. Box Office 413.597.3400.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

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