by Toby Zinman

for the Inquirer

Fool for Love premiered in 1983 and is currently in tepid revival on Broadway. The script, if not the production, is vintage Sam Shepard: violent men, cowboy hats, tortured family relationships.  It takes place in a seedy motel room "on the edge of the Mojave Desert." Of course it does—Shepard has always been interested in the edges of civilization. Fool for Love is about people who are romantics, who fall wildly, recklessly, permanently in love, people who are not just unwilling, but unable to consider the consequences. People who are fools for love.

They are also "fantasists" and storytellers, and these characters should hold us spellbound as the tale unfolds.

May (Nina Arianda) has a date to go to the movies with Martin (Tom Pelphrey).  But all such ordinary events go up in smoke—literally and figuratively—when Eddie (Sam Rockwell) shows up, having driven 2480 miles to find her. This escaping, and waiting, and abandoning has been going on for fifteen years.

A figure sits in a chair at the edge of the set, but although we can see and hear him, he exists only in the minds of May and Eddie. The Old Man (Gordon Joseph Weiss) is another fool for love, as were his two wives, who, we learn, were Eddie's and May's mothers.  This character should seem mysterious, and maybe weirdly funny, wrenching the play out of conventional realism, but, like much of this production, the effect is diminished.

Shepard's first stage direction reads:  "This play is to be performed relentlessly, without a break." Under Daniel Aukin's direction, the pace seems much too measured, not even remotely relentless since much of the danger has been choreographed out of it.

Shepard has always relied on extreme lighting effects, but the lighting design (Justin Townsend) here seems muddled—when twice they rush to turn off the room lights, it never gets dark; when the fire outside illuminates the room, everything just turns orange.

Sam Rockwell, despite some nifty lassoing tricks, lacks the sheer testosterone power that the role of this beat-up stunt man demands, and he relies on a kind of puppyish charm instead. Also he mumbles.

And as anybody who saw Nina Arianda's dazzling performance in Venus in Fur knows, she can electrify a stage—both sexually and theatrically. Here she seems to have been reined in, just as the play has been kept at a distance—literally and figuratively- from the audience.  A big Broadway house may not be the right venue for this intensely intimate play.


Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 47th St., between Broadway and 8th Avenue