BWW Review: Soulpepper's FOOL FOR LOVE diversifies a complex story, but struggles to fully connect
Soulpepper takes on a classic American script in their new production of Sam Shepard's FOOL FOR LOVE, directed by Frank Cox-O'Connell. With simple staging and a compact ensemble, the production implements some interesting and timely ideas but overall leaves something to be desired.
Set on the border of the Mojave Desert in a small, dirty motel room, May (Cara Gee) is confronted by her past when her long-time lover, the wannabe cowboy Eddie (Eion Bailey) reappears with a plan to move to Wyoming and start a farm. The following 80 minutes sees the pair face off verbally and physically as they reconcile with their difficult past, familial trauma, and the fact that May's love - and patience - has turned to hatred for Eddie.
Both actors deliver intense performances, but don't fully connect to their characters. Gee's May has some beautiful moments, with her storytelling leading up to a major reveal shifting the energy from chaotic rage to chilling instantly. Throughout the show, she uses her entire voice to rail against Eddie's oppressive patriarchal ideologies, but despite this, the performance is a bit flat.
Bailey's Eddie is a devil-may-care stuntman and he manages to command the stage whenever he's on it. From lassoing the furniture to performing macho-man headstands meant to show off, Bailey struts through the set with an interesting pseudo-confidence, which leads to some interesting breaks and struggles for the character. Despite all of this, it seems as if there's still a disconnect between Bailey and Eddie that never really corrects itself in the play's runtime.
As May's date-turned-unsuspecting witness to the unravelling of a 15-year relationship, Martin (Alex McCooeye) is a welcome third-party. McCooeye is instantly loveable when coming to May's defense and blends into the background seamlessly, standing in as the audience's way into learning May and Eddie's history.
Flickering between scenes and stories, The Old Man (Stuart Hughes) is an intriguing figure throughout the narrative. Hughes wanders through the desert sand and plucks away on a steel guitar, usually fuelled by his brown paper bagged bottle while offering glimpses into Eddie and May's experiences. He's more of a phantom than a character, and Hughes does a formidable job of solidifying the role and making him feel like a real presence.
The choice to cast Gee as May is one of the more imaginative aspects of this production and opens the story up to new angles. In the program's artist note, Gee writes about her Indigenous perspective and how entering May's life by way of her real-life experiences turns FOOL FOR LOVE into a story about decolonization. While there are no changes to the script, subtle choices in her costumes (Shannon Lea Doyle) nicely adds some of Gee's identity to May's character.
The set design (Lorenzo Savoini) is simple, with the barren motel room literally cut in half and jutting into the audience on a slight angle. The exposed cement shows the decay of the building, but also reflects the decay within May and Eddie's relationship. Lighting (Simon Rossiter) has a few moments of grandeur, but it's the more muted effects that really sell the setting. The cold blue of the bathroom against the warm yellow of the bedroom makes for a nice contrast, and showing the sunset and gradual slip into darkness through the room's windows is a great way of showing time passing.
While Soulpepper's FOOL FOR LOVE is a fundamentally solid production, the few disconnected aspects leave it feeling a bit unfinished. Given the show's recently extended run, the cast and creative team will have plenty of time to work out the minor issues and further strengthen the characters in this complex, evocative work.
FOOL FOR LOVE runs through August 11 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit https://soulpepper.ca/performances/fool-for-love/7088
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz