- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

There is the rosy, sung-by-the Carpenters kind of love that fits prettily on a Hallmark card. And then there is the kind of love that yanks your heart out through clenched teeth.

It is the second type that playwright Sam Shepard explores in his 1983 work, “Fool for Love,” which combines taboo passions and disappearing myths about the Old West in a dirty tangle of a drama. In the Rep Stage’s clear and unbridled production, director Jackson Phippin adds an unexpected and bracing dose of humor.

Mr. Shepard has a reputation for dour, intense works, and while “Fool for Love” is not exactly a knee-slapper, the play’s surreal twang has been hankering for someone to take it on and set it free.

Mr. Phippin does just that with a quartet of relaxed, game actors and a keen sense of the absurd.

“Fool for Love” features the character of the Old Man (Charles Methany), the remembered father of tortured half-siblings May (Shannon Parks) and Eddie (Jarvis George). He is usually relegated to a small slice of the stage, where he sits in his rocking chair surrounded by old photographs and news clippings, waxing folksily about country singer Barbara Mandrell, his true love and fantasy wife. At the Rep Stage, the Old Man steps out of May and Eddie’s collective memory to interact with them with deranged and funny results. During May and Eddie’s eviscerating showdown in a seedy motel room at the edge of the Mojave Desert, the Old Man pops in from time to time for a drink, to dispute their versions of “the truth” and to fight for permanent space in their addled minds.

While Mr. Methany’s peppily meddlesome and loquacious Old Man is a refreshing change from the usual depiction of the character as a god-like, distant presence, “Fool for Love” is at its heart about May and Eddie.

Illicit lovers since high school, the pair are an itch no amount of scratching can ease. Their fatal attraction has run them ragged as they chase each other from one end of the country to the other — either dodging their feelings or indulging in the kind of wallpaper-peeling passion that is so wrong but feels so right.

At the opening of “Fool for Love,” May has had it.

The latest reunion with Eddie, a rodeo cowboy and stuntman, has left her incapable of speech. All she can manage are raw, guttural sounds as she alternately clings to Eddie’s blue-jeaned legs or tries to throw him out.

While Miss Parks’ May is so fidgety and feral you are concerned about her mental state, Mr. George’s Eddie displays that mellow sort of vibe that pinpoints him as a backwoods gigolo. May wants to be left alone to forge a new life (“You’re gonna erase me,” she howls at one point), Eddie just wants to keep coming back for the best lovin’ he’s ever experienced.

“You know me inside and out, Eddie. I got nothing new to show you,” May says. But Eddie is not convinced until a third party shows up — May’s date, Martin (Lance Lewman) — and the dynamic ratchets up dangerously high.

Eddie decides to ruin May’s chances with this congenial fellow by telling him the story of their strange parentage. But you never invite the past in without suffering the consequences. Eddie’s little story costs them both big, as memories of the Old Man fill the room with a bursting, heaving heat.

His is a lethal memory, one that binds May and Eddie in their cycle of grueling passion.

“Fool for Love” deals with the destructive side of love, both carnal and familial. The emotions spewed by May and Eddie are large, but vacant, bound up in myth, memory and deception. People may long for this type of all-consuming love, but they may also change their minds after seeing Mr. Shepard’s ugly and irresistible depiction.

Separately, the actors are effective in their roles. Miss Parks’ scorched-earth anguish is a compelling contrast to Mr. George’s laid-back, slightly jokey demeanor. Their bedroom scenes involve plenty of grappling love-play, but their chemistry never ignites.

They talk and act like desperate lovers, but the audience never feels the burn.

***

WHAT: “Fool for Love” by Sam Shepard

WHERE: Rep Stage, Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre. 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays; additional 8 p.m. performance on Oct. 10. Through Oct. 12.

TICKETS: $10 to $22

PHONE: 410/772-4900

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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