Fool for Love

By Sam Shepherd
Muddy Waters Theatre Company
Directed by Jerry McAdams
Through December 11, 2005

The story of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, currently put up by Muddy Waters Theatre with direction by Jerry McAdams, is pretty straightforward—at least on the surface. When the lights come up, Eddie (John Pierson) and May (Patty Ulrich) are found in a seedy motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert. May is sitting, head hidden, on the bed, while Eddie sits at a nearby table, oiling a leather belt. After a perfectly painful long silence, the dialogue and action begins, and we learn that Eddie and May are estranged lovers. It seems that Eddie is a wanderer, who may or may not have had an affair with a mysterious countess, and May is through taking him back.

This is all very interesting, in its way, as Shepard is a hell of a playwright. But then the fascinating weirdness begins, as the lights come up on a very old man, sitting in a rocking chair to the side of the stage, paper-wrapped bottle clutched in his hand. He begins ruminating on some distant past involving Eddie. The lights fade on him, then, and we get back to our story, until the same thing happens, a little later, with May. It seems that this Old Man (Bruce Collins) is somebody’s father. But whose?

It says a lot for the quality of this show that this mystery is only one of many reasons to go see it. Shepard is one of America’s best playwrights (which is presumably why Muddy Waters chose him as their season’s focus), and his talent with storytelling and language are certainly on display in Fool for Love. But the voice of the writer isn’t a whole lot without the right cast and director, and Muddy Waters scores on both counts with this production.

Ulrich and Pierson have a suitably explosive chemistry; Pierson plays Eddie as an earnest man seemingly always on the cusp of violence (with a little help from alcohol), and Ulrich’s May is ridiculously conflicted about her feelings for Eddie, which is just as it should be. A third character, Martin (William Roth), enters into their battle, and Roth captures the befuddlement Martin feels as the revelations about the couple’s past start spilling out. Collins is simply perfect as the Old Man, and he imbues the character with a sense of weary, flawed gravitas.

McAdams moves his pieces across and around the dingy, realistic set (no design credit given) that is their board with an understated, thoughtful flair. And while the story takes a bit to really pick up steam, once it does the tension is tight as a drumhead. Mark Wilson’s lighting design is complimentary enough, as is Milt Zoth’s sound design.

Muddy Waters has certainly set a high bar with Fool for Love as their season opener. Definitely make it out to see this show, and keep your eyes open for Shepard’s Simpatico, coming from Muddy Waters in February 2006.

Muddy Waters Theatre Company presents Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love through December 11 at the Theatre at St. John’s (5000 Washington Pl. in the Central West End). Performances are Fri. & Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.; and Sun. Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults, $13 for students and seniors, and are available at the box office.

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