Fool for Love, Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1983 play about two broken people locked inside a shared a history and obsession, is the first offering by ART of WNY in their new home in the Theatre Loft at 545 Elmwood Avenue. The play is the fourth in a quintet of family tragedies by Sam Shepard in which an alcoholic father plays a central role in the lives of the characters.
This tale of two lost souls wandering the American west takes place in a cheap motel room in the Mojave Desert where May has settled for a time, working as a cook in a nearby diner. As the play opens, May is sitting on the bed sobbing while Eddie, a rodeo cowboy, stands behind her. The duct tape holding on the sole of his boot leaves no room for doubt about his level of success. On a platform above them, The Old Man sits in a rocker watching the two as he pours liquor from a bottle in a brown paper bag into a plastic cup. Eddie has just arrived and May is devastated that he has found her again. So begins this 75-minute drama of angst and anguish in which the couple tear at each other, eventually telling the secrets of their past to Martin, the man who arrives later for a date with May. Suicide and incest are at the root of their misery as their story unfolds between bouts of drinking, rage, and lust, with The Old Man acting as the ghostly chorus.
Candice Kogut is the emotionally unstable May, subject to mercurial mood swings that leave her exhausted and despondent. Ms. Kogut is fully committed in this role, embracing May and giving full rein to her obsession with Eddie and her feelings of despair that bring on the rage she is helpless to contain. She moves between rage and lust and back again in the blink of an eye, grabbing at Eddie one minute and slamming him away the next. At first I thought Ms. Kogut might be overdoing it, but then recalled some of the people I worked with as a mental health intern in a psychiatric unit who were just as volatile. The word we used to describe them was “labile,” meaning that “emotions are easily aroused and tend to alter quickly and spontaneously.” That is Ms. Kogut as May in a nutshell, at the mercy of her internal demons.
Eric Michael Rawski is the emotionally unstable Eddie, also in thrall to his internal demons. They are two peas in an extremely confining pod. Eddie cajoles and threatens May. He is alternately seductive and mean, gets drunk on tequila and becomes more volatile. Like many a man in his cups who avoids his feelings, he becomes very sentimental in a monologue about walking through town with his father when he was a child. It is a typical father/son story on the surface, but with underpinnings of alcoholism and violence. Mr. Rawski gives Eddie an on-the-edge, nervy energy with his quick-changing moods that frighten May, and later Martin.
Nick Lama is Martin, the man who thought he was going to the movies and instead wandered into a House of Horrors. Mr. Martin is very good as he is at first befuddled by what he is witnessing, then fearful of Eddie’s temper, but at the same time, fascinated by it all.
Steve Jakiel rounds out the cast as the ghostly Old Man. He oversees the action below, then joins the actors on stage, moving between them, commenting on their actions. He also has a monologue about the past, telling a story about a road trip when May was a baby. He is very believable as the alcoholic reprobate who takes no responsibility for the damage he has done.
Director Kelli Bocock-Natale pushes the rage between May and Eddie to a level of realistic violence. They really go at each other, so the audience feels their pain and fury. There is one comic moment when Eddie casually pours tequila into The Old Man’s cup without batting an eye. Kudos to whoever came up with that bit. The sleazy motel room set is by Matthew LaChiusa, who is also the Executive Director of ART of WNY. Lighting and sound are by John Shotwell, who made the car crashes and gunshots very real.
Fool for Love, at ART of WNY until November 17th, is a raw look into torn and broken lives, the ravages of alcoholism, and the underbelly of the American Dream.