Rep Stage ushers in its season with love, fights and a fine cast

Crew shows its talent in `Fool for Love'

Howard Live

Review

October 02, 2003|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Rep Stage is beginning its season with Sam Shepard's Fool for Love. It is an intriguing play, performed by a fine cast with strong direction by Jackson Phippin.

In a cheap motel in back-country California, we meet May, a cook in a local restaurant, and Eddie, an itinerant rodeo rider and stunt man. May complains that for 15 years Eddie has been driving into town, carrying on an affair with her and then leaving.

Now Eddie says he wants May to come with him. He has land in Wyoming and hopes to settle down. May refuses. Following one of the cliches of modern theater, they hash out their relationship at great length, alternately fighting and loving.

May keeps telling Eddie to leave, but whenever he starts for the door she panics. We are plainly meant to wonder why there is such a strong bond between the two.

May jealously suspects there is another woman. Eddie says there isn't one; later he admits there is but swears she means nothing to him. Ultimately, she shows up offstage and causes big trouble. May, in turn, admits that she is seeing a man, and later we meet him, a pleasant, unpretentious lawn and garden contractor named Martin.

From the beginning of the show, there has been an old man sitting quietly at one side of the stage. Gradually he enters the conversation and the action. He represents the past, and the intertwined lives of May and Eddie are gradually revealed.

Eddie, May and the Old Man tell their versions of the story. But all three swear the others' versions are lies, so we're never sure of the truth (another cliche of contemporary theater).

There are many ways of looking at Fool for Love. Phippin recently told The Sun's J. Wynn Rousuck that he believes the playwright is "concerned about what happens to the American family in this culture that is concerned with consumption and over-consumption and [with] the degradation of the mythical and the mystical."

Shepard might have been thinking these things, but they are hard to find in the dialogue. The characters' problems are personal, psychological and universal, and the play's basic action and conflicts could be set in almost any age and country.

Lisa A. Wilde, the Rep Stage dramaturge, likens Fool for Love and other Shepard plays to Greek tragedy. "Just as in classical myth," she writes in the program, "families, ghosts of the past, questions of betrayal and atonement all make appearances."

These elements also occur in melodrama. That genre is held in low esteem in today's theater, but Fool for Love incorporates several features of it in addition to those mentioned.

Though it is played as one continuous act with no intermission, the show has a well-crafted three-act structure (conflict, comic relief, conflict resolved), and the action includes a shooting and a fire.

One of the stock plot devices of 19th-century melodrama was a surprising (and unlikely) revelation involving family relationships: the sudden return of a long-lost brother or a character unexpectedly revealed as someone's son. Fool for Love includes just such a secret.

Shannon Parks faithfully and subtly portrays May's ever-changing moods. Jarvis George gives Eddie a strong, solid personality and a proper Western swagger without neglecting the character's nuances.

It might seem easy for an actor to portray a simple, likable man like Martin believably. It isn't, and Lance Lewman deserves praise for his fine characterization.

As the Old Man, Charles Matheny convincingly moves from detachment to passionate involvement in the action.

Set designer Richard Montgomery carries out Phippin's vision of consumerist America, providing a run-down motel room with walls pasted, like a tattered billboard, with scraps of pop-culture images. Sally Montgomery furnishes appropriate costumes. The slave bracelet May wears around her ankle is a particularly telling detail.

The lighting by Jay A. Herzog and sound by Aaron Broderick work together to provide such convincing offstage effects as thunder, wind, fire and cars arriving and departing.

Rep Stage presents "Fool for Love" at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 12, with an additional performance at 7 p.m. Oct. 10 in Smith Theatre, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Reservations: 410-772-4900.

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