BWW Review: FOOL FOR LOVE Intoxicates at The Classics Theatre Project
The famous writer and conservationist Edward Abbey once wrote that "what draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote." And Abbey would know; he spent years as a ranger for the National Park Service in Utah and Arizona. Somewhere out there in the vast expanse of isolation, Abbey found a closer connection to himself, his loved ones, and the landscape that surrounded him.
The broken characters of Sam Shepard's FOOL FOR LOVE find themselves on a similar search for the intimate in the Mojave Desert, though the quest is one without an ending. The play, stunningly directed by Van Quattro and produced by The Classics Theatre Project, is running through March 30 at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park.
Shepard's 1983 award-winning drama tells the story of two tumultuous lovers in real-time, lasting not long over an hour and taking place without intermission. Eddie, a movie stuntman with shady connections to a violent underworld, has come to the desert in search of his former lover May at her sordid motel room. The scene picks up not long after Eddie enters the room, and he spends much of the play trying to convince May to leave with him. Things become more complicated when another man arrives, called on by May to take her away to a new life. Watching over all the action is an Old Man, at once a distanced narrator and an engaged actor, blurring the line between presence and absence in a manner typical of Shepard's fantastical realism.
Quattro skillfully directs a powerhouse ensemble in the tight confines of the Margo Jones, moving actors in natural yet dynamic ways that create a sense of suspense and claustrophobia. Much of the play's tension rests in the role of Eddie, and Joey Folsom proves himself more than capable of creating a character that is at once intoxicatingly enticing and dangerously unpredictable. He struts and staggers around the motel room like a trapped animal, his confident seduction of May contradicted by his hunched shoulders and nervous energy. In fact, while his line delivery is excellent, Folsom's physicality is what truly impresses. By the end of the play, audience members were uncertain if the dew in his eyelashes was sweat or tears, an ambiguity that is every bit as meaningful as Shepard's own dialogue.
As May, Sasha Maya Ada complements Folsom's performance with her own mix of strength and vulnerability, playing a woman who knows the influence she holds over her former lover but who can't seem to escape the spell he casts over her. While May can too easily become a stereotypical victim, Ada finds ways to assert the character's power whenever possible. When pinned underneath Folsom in a particularly harrowing moment, she still holds the upper hand, projecting authority with clenched fists and an unwavering voice.
Critics have long categorized FOOL FOR LOVE as a drama, but it would be more accurate to call it a dark comedy that seamlessly mixes high-stakes situations with fiendishly wry humor. While all the performers draw laughter from audiences, much of the comedic relief comes from two actors in particular. As Martin, the other man who comes to whisk May away, Braden Socia finds humor in contrasting his physically imposing figure with a gentle voice of innocence (his entrance is one of the show's most hysterical moments, perhaps in every sense of the word). Chris Messersmith relies more on crisp and dry line delivery, commenting on the action from a rocking chair as The Old Man. In addition to making audiences laugh, Messersmith has the uncanny ability to make listeners hang on to every word of his character's stories, even if those stories may not be true.
While the show's program did not list the creative team for the production, their efforts deserve mention all the same. The scenic design does much to create a realistic motel room inside of a fairly limited space while still giving performers the room to move and breathe easily. Lights and sound combined to create an atmosphere of inescapability; slamming doors were accompanied with sudden bumps of light and what seemed to be the sound of a shutting vault. Especially powerful was the choice to line the stage with floor lights that projected the shadows of the performers on the walls over the audience. Whether intentional or not, this effect amplified small domestic battles into epics as immense as the Mojave itself.
Shepard's plays can be difficult, often demanding as much from audiences as they do from directors and actors. The Classics Theatre Project and the team behind FOOL FOR LOVE have created a production that makes the material both accessible and intriguing, both entertaining and thought-provoking. And if you leave the theatre with questions still lingering in your mind after the final blackout, that's precisely the point. Though perhaps don't go to the desert looking for the answers.
Photo Credit: Evan Michael Woods Photography