Friday, February 10, 2017

"Fool for Love"

Fool for Love
Sam Shepard

Jessi Campbell, Andrew Pastides & Patrick Russell
Classic Shepard: It is all here.  The dry, dusty, desert setting of the American Southwest.  The unmade, iron-frame bed and yellow kitchen chair leftover from the ‘50s (only missing the usual, out-dated Frigidare in the corner).  The bare electric light hanging from the ceiling.  The brash-acting cowboy; the sad-looking woman with unkept hair and bare feet.  The father who has a history of abandonment and alcohol.  A script economic in length, electric in impact.

And when Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love is put into the hands of the Magic Theatre where so many of his over forty plays have premiered and played in the Company’s fifty-year history, there is little doubt going in but that we are about to witness a gripping, tumultuous, and deeply affecting production.  Under the incredibly able and artistic direction of Loretta Greco, that guarantee of a stunningly memorable is once again signed, sealed, and delivered.

Sitting at the lone table in the lone chair, tall and lanky in his boots and ranch clothes, Eddie fingers a lone glove on his hand and pleads with the woman sitting on the cheap motel bed – a woman who looks catatonic as she stares frozen into space.  “May, look.  May?  I’m not goin’ anywhere.  See?  I’m right here.  I’m not gone.” And as quick as the blink of her non-moving eyes, May suddenly springs to the floor, hugging in childlike desperation the legs of same cowboy, as he continues to assure her with increasing exasperation, “I’m not going to leave you.  I’m stayin’ right here.  I already told you that.”

Thus begins Sam Shepard’s slice-of-relationship-life play, Fool for Love, where plot is not as important as our gaining a glimpse of one more in what we learn has been a series of sudden appearances by Eddie into May’s life -- all which have apparently ended in equally abrupt disappearances.  The yo-yo-like history of the two lovers has clearly had its toil for both as seen in their pent-up, unfulfilled passions and in bottled-up frustrations fueling doubt, angst, and anger.  Explosions of threat and expressions of hate are closely followed by locked eyes full of deep affection and joined bodies wrapped in mutual eroticism. 

This latest reunion sees Eddie driving 2480 miles from a Wyoming ranch job to the Mojave Desert town where May has fled hoping to escape his discovery after his latest disappearance that left her holed up in a trailer park with nothing but a stack of fashion magazines he left to keep her company.  Eddie has come to take May ‘home,’ a place she has absolutely no intention in going.  What she is planning on doing is going out on a planned date tonight – something Eddie is just as intent will not happen.

Jessi Campbell
Jessi Campbell is spell-bounding in her sometimes tempered, sometimes temper-ridden performance as May.  Her barely-louder-than-whisper arrows flung verbally at Eddie are pronounced with s’s that hiss, t’s that punch, and d’s that dig deep hoping to hurt.  She is sure he has been seeing another woman (whom she sneeringly refers as “the Countess”), leading her time and again suddenly to explode in a screaming “Get outa’ here!”  Yet each time Eddie heads out or even just toward the door, Ms. Campbell’s May crumbles in a shaking, weeping pile of fear that he will once again not come back while also in her eyes clearly afraid that he might.  Her May is like a stretched rubber band ready to break apart any minute.  At the same time, there is an inner resolve and desire for independence that permeates her being as she battles the conflicting, confusing feelings she has for this erstwhile, on-and-off-again lover.

Andrew Pastides
Equally phenomenal is Andrew Pastides as Eddie, especially in the way he captures the multiple sides of this roaming cowboy.  There are times he is like a gangly teenage boy with lovesick eyes and an aw-shucks demeanor.  Other times he is a roaring, screaming monster full of threats and possible violence.  His nervous, twitching energy springs forth through incredible physical feats of springing from a squat to full attention in a flash or of a mid-air, somersault leap onto the bed.  He also often resides for long periods on the floor with long legs twisting in knots, dangling in the air, or hanging onto the nearby bed.   In Eddie can be experienced much intensity, mystery, and something close to likeability; but with Eddie comes also explosions of slammed doors, stomped boots, and an angered voice that startles and scares. 

Rod Gnapp
Intently watching off-stage the roller-coaster ride of Eddie’s and May’s reunion is an old, grisly-faced man in a rocking chair.  Occasionally he intervenes as a known voice from the past of each – a voice in their heads that gives raspy advice what to say or do next; tells a story from a shared past with one of them; or makes pointed, snarly objections to the version of a story he is hearing told.  The Old Man’s role in each of their lives is part of a secret threading throughout their troubled history.  Ron Gnapp is on the one hand ghostly and ghastly in his presence and interventions and on the other hand, amusing and intriguing as he turns to the audience to explain his point of view.

Andrew Pastides & Patrick Russell
Rounding out this exceptional ensemble is Martin, the anticipated date for May’s night at the movies who arrives to a scene his hometown-boy self could never have dreamed possible – even in his worst nightmare.  As the dressed-in-ironed-shirt Martin (with required shined cowboy boots and western bolo tie), Patrick Russell exudes naïve innocence, little experience with life outside the desert, and a all-around good-guy disposition – all which make him prime bait for Eddie’s taking.

On top of the outstanding direction and acting, the creative team excels in this Magic revival of Fool for Love.  To experience the lighting designed by Christopher Akerlind is worth the entire price of the ticket.  From the stark bleakness it shines on the motel-from-nowhere room to the large silhouette of the key players projected on walls that clearly hint of a history of similar interactions shadowing over this particular night, Mr. Akerlind’s artistry and skills add much to the telling of the story.

The same can be said for the sound design of Sara Huddleston.  Key events occur that we never see; but we totally experience them through her realistic, split-second-timed effects that couple with further mastery of the aforementioned lighting design.  The stark set that is raised and bound with claustrophobic borders designed by Andrew Boyce along with his personality-defining costumes combine with Jacquelyn Scott’s story-enhancing props to round out a production that could hardly be better in its Sam-Shepard-appropriate execution.

For the first-time Shepard viewer (if there is any such person) and certainly for the perennial fan of the playwright genius, no better choice could be made than to experience him at the Magic.  Congratulations to the Company on their 50th anniversary year and on another Sam Shepard trophy to put in their theatrical annals.

Rating: 5 E

Fool for Love continues through February 26, 2017 at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at or by calling the box office at (415) 441-8822.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Reiley

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