Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fool For Love (Living Theatre)

By Le-Anne
great design elements • see you some Shepard • some nice stage violence • not for the kiddies (language, violence, content)

BOTTOM LINE: It’s always a good idea to check out a Shepard play. Not quite as risky of a production as I was hoping for, but in all, a solid show.

Lots of anger is hurled about in The Bull’s production of Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love at the Living Theatre. This self-proclaimed “pulp revival,” directed by Katherine Krause, promises a “knock-down, drag ‘em out fight.” Shepard’s play, though touted as being raw and passionate, is also seen as one of his weaker works. It was first produced in 1983 during a time of social and political clash and opposition, as the United States was barely recovering from a five year long recession, although hope was on the brink. It is interesting then, that The Living Theatre chose to remount this play during a time in our country that is both eerily similar and yet couldn’t be more dissimilar to it’s state twenty-five years ago...a time when our country’s social and political climate is a walking contradiction, much like the characters May and Eddie in Fool For Love.

On-again-off-again lovers, May and Eddie have deep secrets and even deeper wounds and struggle with each other like a fat kid loves cake (thanks fiddy). The two, played by Katie Bender and Kevin Shaffer respectively, duke it out on stage in a game of who can yell more, be meaner, and slam the door the loudest. Incidentally, fight choreographer Dan Zisson lends his sharp talents to some rousing and exciting violence throughout the production. His stamp is clear and carnal, especially during the fight in the middle of the show that seamlessly binds Eddie from a domestic brawl with May to a line of defense with Martin, May’s new boyfriend (played by Jonathan Wilde).

Wilde, though he plays a secondary character, is oddly the glue that holds this production together. Grand entrance included, the scenes Wilde is in are decidedly more magnetic, particularly in a moment shared between Shaffer and Wilde in which Eddie offers the secrets of his sordid past with May. Wilde’s depth of character, both archetypal and sincere, draws out from Shaffer what was lacking in his earlier scenes with Bender, which consisted mostly of yelling. From the moment the lights come up on Shaffer’s Marlboro Man physique, the archetype is clear but we are waiting to see that Lost Boy buried beneath the dirt and horse sweat of a Cowboy, which is finally revealed when he pairs with Wilde. Wilde is genuine in his performance and garnered big laughs with his portrayal of this honest simpleton. Wilde, never over-thinking, presents a versatile, uniquely Shepardian character.

While archetypes are prevalent in Shepard’s work, what makes the characters so interesting are their subtle contradictions while being absorbed and trapped within those passionate types. In Fool For Love, Shepard understands and plays with the idea that passion is warmth and wrath, suffering and ecstasy, rage and rapture. This production has the wrath, suffering, and rage part down.

One of the things that provided some interesting depth to this production was the creative lighting design by Christina Watanabe. She ingeniously took risks with surreal lighting choices, like a vast, violet, starry, sky splashed across the confined and ugly motel walls against the more realistic, dirty, colors of the harsh reality that’s imagined by May and Eddie. Krause pairs Watanabe's stimulating lighting design with moments of contrasting symbolism. For instance, the first time the dreamy universe is displayed is when The Old Man (Bill Weeden) explains to Eddie what realism is. Then, the last time we see it is at the end of the play, when the truth of the story hits home. Together with a thorough costume design by Tod Michaels, right down to the sweat stain running down the middle of Eddie’s back, a stirring sound design by Justin Zalkin providing a couple jump-in-my-seat moments of explosions, horses, and car alarms, and a stark and gritty scenic design by William George McGarvy, the designers really help to bring this production to life.

Like many of Shepard’s plays, it is what is behind the words and actions that are most powerful in Fool For Love. If you’ve ever struggled with a relationship that was a “can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em” battle or where the love was foolishly worth the pain, then pop on down and give Fool For Love, at The Living Theatre, a shot.

(Fool For Love is at The Living Theatre, 21 Clinton Street (below Houston) through March 22nd. Performance times are Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. It is one hour with no intermission. Tickets are $25, available online at www.livingtheatre.org.)

No comments: