What Fools These Mortals Be—FOOL FOR LOVE @ Centre Theater

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

Michelle Pauls and Adam Altman in a scene from FOOL FOR LOVE a Centre Theater production running through March 25.

Iron Age Theatre Company, in conjunction with The Centre Theater in Norristown, is presenting Sam Shepard’s 1983 play FOOL FOR LOVE now thru March 25th, 2012. Co-directed by John Doyle and Randall Wise of Iron Age, FOOL is probably Shepard’s best known work, focusing on the dark side of life in the western part of the US (as most of his plays do).  First produced at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco in February of 1983, the piece then moved to Off-Broadway at the Circle Repertory Theatre in May.  Shepard directed both of these original productions, winning Obie Awards for his writing and directing, as well as the award for Best New American Play.

Set in a seedy motel room in the Mojave Desert, FOOL FOR LOVE introduces us to May (Michelle Pauls) and Eddie (Adam Altman).  From the outset it is clear the two have an intense sexual attraction—a relationship that is clearly toxic.  We soon find out exactly how damaged they both are—May and Eddie share the same father, and the ramifications of that fact have wreaked havoc on their lives.  The father is present in their minds throughout; he is also present for the audience as an observer of the action off to one side of the stage.

The “Old Man” (Dave Fiebert), as he is dubbed, led a double life—abandoning both families for large chunks of May’s and Eddie’s childhoods.  The two began their incestuous involvement unaware of their relationship.  The discovery of the truth caused Eddie’s mother to commit suicide.  And May has fled to this motel to start a new life.  We soon learn that she is awaiting the arrival of a date when Eddie storms into her room.  The date, Martin (Sean Close), arrives and is immediately sucked into the destructive dance that is May and Eddie’s relationship.

Shepard’s characters are extremely flawed human beings; May and Eddie seem oblivious to the damage they are causing others.   In that sense they are definitely their father’s children.  By the end of the play, The Old Man is lost in his delusions, Eddie and May have not resolved anything and Martin is left alone in the room trying to figure out what has happened as he watches Eddie’s truck burn up outside.

Michelle Pauls, Sean Close, Adam Altman in a scene from FOOL FOR LOVE at Centre Theater through March 25.

The ensemble gives strong performances. Ms. Pauls is put thru an emotional wringer; she handles May’s anguish with great perception.  It is not an easy role in my opinion.  I think I would find it difficult to inhabit a woman who allows herself to be treated so cruelly. Mr. Altman is quite believable as the macho Eddie, even handling a lasso with wonderful finesse. He manages to give the character a smidgen of vulnerability.  I at least got the sense that Eddie doesn’t know any better.  Fiebert and Close offer solid support in their respective roles.  The Old Man is such a detached observer of the emotional wreckage he has created that it is a challenge for an actor to find a way to portray that.  Our natural inclination is to want to be liked.  Mr. Close’s Martin is the ultimate victim of the piece.  The poor guy just wants to take May to a movie.

Doyle and Wise have directed things tightly, taking the audience through this dark story at a brisk pace on Wise’s suitably seedy set. Wise also handled the costuming, while Doyle designed the lights.  And Luke Moyer has created a very evocative soundscape.

I’m not sure what the point of this whole piece is supposed to be, maybe that just me.  I tend to prefer plays that shed some light on the human condition as opposed to pieces that just present the characters and no one is enriched in any way at the end.  But I know many people do like this type of work.  If you’re up for a challenge, by all means check this production out.

by Sam Shepard
Directed by John Doyle & Randall Wise
Iron Age Theatre Company @ The Centre Theater
208 DeKalb Street
Norristown, PA 19401

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