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You’d Be A Fool To Miss “Fool For Love”

by Karen Tortora-Lee on March 17, 2009

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Fool For Love - photo by Christina Watanabe

Fool For Love - photo by Christina Watanabe

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Rihanna and Chris Brown in the headlines, the tabloids, the blogs, the daytime talk shows, the elevator banks … how he allegedly beat her and how they’ve allegedly reconciled. Wherever you go you’ll hear the same thing: What the hell is she thinking? I can’t even begin to speculate on what happened, or what she’s thinking. What I can say is … if it’s anything like what I think it is, it’s nothing new. And it’s been fodder for plays like Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love for years.

Some couples find something when they meet that has nothing to do with love but everything to do with passion, so they think it’s grounds for a relationship and they go for it. But passion comes in many varieties and the variety that comes with bruises and abuse is not love. Still, there must be something addicting about it for both people involved or they wouldn’t keep going back. People who do, Sam Shepard would have us believe, are Fools. I would have to agree with him there.

In this case, the two fools are Eddie (Kevin Shaffer) and May (Katie Bender) and even though we’re just given a glimpse of them one night as they battle it out in a motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert there’s very little else we need to know of them.  Because from what we do see of them, they’ve given over their entire selves to this THING between them that holds them both captive, so much so that nothing else really exists. Other people may come into their lives, but only on the fringes and as a distraction. Other events may take them far away, but just the thought of the curve of May’s neck is enough to have Eddie drive close to three thousand miles without stopping just so he could be with her again.

After this long absence May reacts to Eddie with flashes of every emotion she can fit into that small motel room of hers: joy at seeing him, pain at having lost him at all, distrust at how much he’s willing to give of himself to her again, anger at still feeling anything at all for him. There’s also regret, playfulness, fear, lust, lethargy, animation … and other emotions that are so convoluted they have no name … they’re just tied to hard wiring in her brain. Eddie, for his part, has echos of whatever May throws out at him; when she’s clingy he’s strong, when she’s petulant he’s ardent; when she’s furious he’s violent. It’s clear that they’ve been doing this dance for a long time now, the steps are so ingrained in their movements that there’s a groove in the way they walk; they both know just how to come forward, move back, offer, pull away – physically, emotionally, verbally. Even when the other isn’t in the room they’re dancing with each other’s ghost, so powerless to break free that they tell their story over and over again living their past and their present simultaneously every time they’re together. Is it any wonder they’re so conflicted? Is it any wonder they’re twisting under this weight, hurling themselves at each other, hurling each other at objects, hurling objects across the room?  Everywhere they turn this thing they’ve created is with them and wont … go … away.

Yet even as Eddie’s telling May “I’m here now, and I ain’t goin’ nowhere” there’s barely any gentleness to him.  He’s yelling at her, his tone is harsh, his body language menacing. She’s cowering, head down, not answering him. To get a response out of her he literally flings her around the room at times; from ten rows back your cower in your chair, worried that their passion will carry over to you … that their complete obsession with each other will keep them from noticing you there at all.

Have you ever seen a couple and wonder what’s made them like this? Is it just who they are? Is it just written into their DNA that they find a match for their restless energy so that the two of them can simmer and pop and rattle together until one of them explodes and take the other one with them? Is that what happened with Sid and Nancy? Or with Joe Orton and Ken Halliwell? We may never know what happened when these couples were alone, or how they came to be the way they were, but in Fool For Love we eventually learn exactly why these particular two – Eddie and May – can’t stay together, yet can’t stay apart.

Throughout the events of the evening an Old Man (Bill Weeden) sits off to the side, commenting on what he sees, and at first his stories are quaint ramblings … texturing the past a bit and breaking up the tension.  Also helping these two from killing each other or themselves, at least for now, is Martin (Jonathan Wilde), a sweet, unassuming man who’s been seeing May for a vague period of time and who happens to be there that night to take May to the movies. To see Martin juxtaposed next to Eddie is to see why May is torn; each man is everything the other is not … and as much as she tries to convince herself that she wants a quiet life far away from Eddie with a nice man, the truth is she just wants Eddie.  Unless she doesn’t.  But of course she does.  But not anymore!  Unless he still does?  But it doesn’t matter, it’s too late!  Unless … poor Martin, he just wants to see a movie.

Soon enough, with the Old Man’s help, we get to find out what’s got these two kids so rattled. In a way … there’s really no other way they can be with each other. It suddenly all makes sense; the kind of sense that makes no sense at all.  Really, they’re just another pair of fools.

The entire cast is fantastic, and under Katherine Krause’s direction Kevin Shaffer Katie Bender and Bill Weeden manage to be explosive without being melodramatic. But my favorite moments belonged to Jonathan Wilde who is asked to do so much with such a subtle role. Without any grandstanding he managed to completely grab focus and act as the perfect catalyst to these two forces of nature; when he talked about trimming the grass around the sprinklers he was compelling; the perfect “nice guy”.  Of course he’d be the first to tell you … they finish last, those nice guys.

This great production is around for a few more days.  Don’t be a fool, see it while you still can.

Produced by The Bull, FOOL FOR LOVE will play at The Living Theatre (21 Clinton Street) March 4-22, Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets ($25) are available online at

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