“Fool for Love” at The Jungle Theater

Terry Hempleman as Eddie and and Jennifer Blagen as May in The Jungle Theater’s “Fool for Love.” PHOTO CREDIT: Michal Daniel.

Terry Hempleman as Eddie and and Jennifer Blagen as May in The Jungle Theater’s “Fool for Love.” PHOTO CREDIT: Michal Daniel.

What? You’ve never seen a performance of “Fool for Love?” Well, neither had I, to be honest, and I was so pleased that The Jungle Theater chose it to open their season. If you are even mildly interested in classic, modern American theater, you must see this play, and you really should see it as the playwright intended it. That’s what’s waiting for you in this production, and it’s golden. Bravo!

Many years ago when I first read “Fool for Love,” I remember rolling my eyes over the excruciating detail in playwright Sam Shepherd’s stage directions, down to the color of the curtains, I think. (I was a young director, and I hadn’t yet written a play myself.) Artistic Director Bain Boelke’s production at the Jungle illustrates the usefulness of this kind of meddling in a director’s affairs; Boelke followed those directions—I think down to the color of the curtains—and has crafted an experience where the idea, tone, setting and emotional content are all one piece. The play’s dilemma is impossible to resolve, really, and memory, dream and the present reality are all jumbled together. The theater experience, then, has to make sense in that context, and in this production, it really does.

Regardless of what you think of this detail or that, what this play must have is a raging fire between the lovers Eddie and May that just cannot be put out. Terry Hempleman and Jennifer Blagen as a duo beautifully accomplish this.

Eddie and May are the play’s “fools,” discovered at the beginning of the play in a disgustingly seedy motel in the Mojave Desert. Eddie, missing for a prolonged period of time, has just shown up, unannounced, and claims to have come thousands of miles to find her. She is expecting a young man, Martin, to show up at any minute to take her to the movies. A sweet and earnest date, played to perfection by Jason Peterson, Martin is clearly little more than a diversion for May, or at most an indication that she is trying to fashion a new life for herself. This is a bigger order than the usual tumultuous coupling; sometime after Eddie and May started “fooling around,” as Eddie puts it, they learned that they have the same father.

The enormity of this fact is accentuated by the contained setting: a plain wooden table, two mismatched chairs, a bed, messy and sagging, planted in the middle of the room. The curtains are shredded at the bottom, the walls streaked with old stains, the space illuminated by the glowing neon strip that circles the proscenium, holding them all inside. Although the door stands open much of the time, Eddie and May do little more than stand in it, with bravado, but then the door slams again; she pins her back against the wall with a startling reverberation; he takes another drink.

That’s not just a summary of the play’s circumstances. I was quite absorbed in its world. I liked the straightforward personality Hempleman gave Eddie: a cowboy who thinks little beyond his basic wants and seems to choose to ignore his life’s psychological complexities. He wants May when he wants her. It’s not complicated at all for him.

Blagen’s May seems to be tortured by a deeper understanding of herself. Eddie may run off when he chooses and find another woman, too, while her stab at a new relationship, represented by the pretty boy Martin, is so ludicrous that it’s clear she has a long way to go—if she ever can—to become her own person. She tousles her hair into a lion’s mane that shadows her frightened face. She plants her feet, in high heels, wide apart and sits slumped over on the edge of the bed. But when she walks across the room to Eddie, her face softened, he acquiesces for a moment, and it is the one moment she feels some control.

May knows, however, that the relationship with Eddie will continue to cycle as it always has. She also knows that she is not the one who would leave it, and the only way she can escape is by never agreeing to the fantasy life that Eddie imagines the two will have, living in a trailer on a small farm. Eddie, little bothered by the fact that their relationship is incestuous, would do what he has always done—and what their father always did—and just leave when he wants to. In a sense, he has nothing at stake—if he can just get her to come with him. He could succeed; the motel she lives in makes it clear that she has nothing of her own and has not freed herself from her past.

But it’s not that simple, even. An old man—the lovers’ father —played completely believably by Allen Hamilton, is a constant presence, commenting from time to time, and eventually participating in the action, in the way that we see ourselves participating in the action of our own dreams, with little ability to affect the outcome.

In fact, little “happens” in this play. Nothing changes, no one grows more aware or better able to handle the circumstance and nothing is revealed to the characters, other than to Martin. The only thing at stake is the lover/siblings either staying together or not. The battle will surely rage on, regardless.

“Fool for Love” runs through October 20. There’s a huge selection of restaurants and night spots in the neighborhood. Make it a night!

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