Dysfunction in relationships can have all kinds of trivial causes. Some couples bicker over money. Some couples haggle over how to raise the kids. Others get in fistfights over whether to buy whole or lowfat milk. In the case of Eddie and May, the two main characters in Sam Shepard's Fool for Love, the cause of dysfunction is anything but trivial.
The play, which is currently showing at the Tricklock Performance Space, is set entirely in a run-down motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert. A rodeo star named Eddie (Joe Pesce) has just driven 2,500 miles from Wyoming to jumpstart his doomed relationship with May (Kerry Morrigan). She's having none of it. Over the course of their 15-year relationship, Eddie's left her more times than she can count, and she's sure he'll do it again.
So, she screams at him. She locks herself in the bathroom. She knees him in the balls. Then, as he's heading out the door, she begs him to please, please stay.
An old man (Frank Melcori) observes this neurotic dance from the sidelines, occasionally stepping forward to recite what at first seems like a string of non-sequiturs. The fight continues. Eventually, May's well-mannered date, Martin (Chad Brummett), shows up to try to make sense of what gradually becomes a very bizarre situation. The identity of the old man is eventually revealed. We also learn all about the nasty little secret that ties the couple together while simultaneously splitting them apart.
The Tricklockers, once again, put on a very good show. Director Paul Ford keeps the pressure high during this long, twisted, bare-knuckled spat. Pesce revels in Eddie's drunken sadism while somehow keeping the character sympathetic. Morrigan, likewise, lets May fly off the handle without restraint, yet you can't help but feel for her. Brummett's character isn't nearly as flashy or over-the-top as the two bickering love birds, but he does an excellent job of playing the straight man to these two drunken wackos.
Fool for Love is one of Shepard's best plays. Robert Altman made a passable movie version of it in the mid '80s starring Kim Basinger as May and Shepard himself as Eddie. Even so, Fool for Love is really more suited to the stage.
In this Tricklock production, the atmosphere is tight and claustrophobic. The entire motel room seems to be drenched in tequila. We spend most of the play waiting for someone to light a match so the whole thing can burst into flames—which it does, eventually. Yet knowing it's going to end in disaster doesn't take away any of the play's tension. Actually, it just makes the story that much more nerve-wracking and tragic.
Thankfully, Fool for Love's dark rusty edge, which otherwise might be unbearably depressing, is blunted to a large degree with generous doses of crazed humor. In a play about the twisted underbelly of romance, it's nice that Shepard allows his characters to rip a good joke or three to lighten the mood. In this production, Pesce and Morrigan, especially, walk the tightrope between between drama and comedy with easy grace.
Don't be a fool. Go see this play.