Fool For Love: first in a series of productions of plays by the late great Sam Shepard

Dark and Stormy Productions, 77 13th Ave. NE, through September 16


Patrick Coyle and Sara March in Fool For Love. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Dark And Stormy‘s theater (an out-of-the-way converted office space at 77 13th St. N.E.) is cramped and stuffy, and the cheap chairs’ll numb your ass in five minutes flat. In other words, it’s my kind of space. I love it here. A place for sweaty theatricality, down-and-dirty character exploration. I wouldn’t want to see Hamlet or Major Barbara in this theater, but it’s perfect for the wild and weird world of the recently late Sam Shepard.

Fool For Love, the Shepard play at hand, is easily summarized: Eddie visits May in a rundown (one assumes) motel in the American Outback and tries to convince her to move with him to Wyoming. (I can see this motel, see the tumbleweeds scurrying across the gravel parking lot, hear the rattly air conditioners, see Eddie’s rusted pickup, the burning sun.) May refuses to go. Her past with Eddie is violent and tearful. She has a new beau. But she needs, passionately, what Eddie’s offering. The sparks created by this vicious go/don’t go passion sustain the play.

Into this pyrotechnical mix Shepard inserts a terrific character, whom he calls “The Old Man.” Played with laconic brilliance by Patrick Coyle, El Viejo drinks quietly, watches, makes comments (which build beautifully). Coyle’s performance is wonderful, the best thing in this play.

Good also is Antonio Duke as Martin, May’s movie-going boyfriend. Lean and angular, Martin, despite Eddie’s outré provocations, takes the easy-going route. He could, it is clear, be more predictable and more physical but he doesn’t take the bait and the tension created by this makes Martin eminently watchable. Lovely work.

As for the two leads, Eddie and May (James Rodriguez and Sara Marsh respectively), well, they come close. Very close. Their energy engages and propels Fool For Love forward. May howls and hops on the bed, rushes off to the bathroom, changes into a sexier, slinkier dress, holds Eddie close then shoves him away. Eddie for his part refuses to let May go. He is desperate, it becomes clear, to pick up the shards of his shattered life. He carts in cowboy props – a gun, a rope, a hat – as though to somehow charm the hostile May. Their needs are clear and loudly expressed.

But somehow, imho, uncompelling. What it comes down to is that I wanted not so much to understand Eddie and May’s needs as to be disturbed and frightened, to my core, by them. And I wasn’t. Have I become a jaded, hard-to-scare theater-goer in my advancing years? Possibly. Still, I feel that director Mel Day, who has done a terrific job of giving Fool For Love claustrophobic intensity, might profitably spend a further afternoon or two with the two leads, exploring these characters more fully.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His Anna May Wong bioplay, How The Ghost Of You Clings, will be presented by the Playwrights Center as part of the 2018 Ruth Easton Festival. His Sideways Stories From Wayside School, will be produced at Houston’s Main Street Theatre. Please visit John’s informational website.