Incestuous, bipolar, Best Western ‘Love’ story

In elementary school, we all learned the West was won, the West was done. But playwright Sam Shepard has a different idea. His “Fool for Love” resurrects the fabled Old West, adapting it from the screen to the stage, from the range … to a dingy motel room.

Directed by Sam Kahn ’08 with hotdogging skill, Shepard’s uncanny, Westernized love story goes up this weekend at the Off-Broadway Theater. “Fool for Love” slowly unravels the 15-year saga of a love story between May (Adrianna Villa ’08) and Eddie (Gabriel Sloyer ’09). Their love is full of resentment, fury, accents and — depending on your standard of measurement — incest.

When Eddie shows up unannounced at May’s motel room (after running off yet again), an onstage battle ensues, and is waged — intermittently — for roughly an hour. Privy to the intricacies of their bipolar relationship, the audience learns progressively more details as Eddie becomes progressively more intoxicated. Yet oddly enough, the old lovers are never alone in the motel room. Haunted by the proverbial manifestation of their sordid past, the reticent and creepy “Old Man” (Bobby Allen ’09), they engage in verbal and literal sparring matches over whether May will take Eddie back. And with the arrival of May’s date, Martin (Tully McLoughlin ’11), the already sufficiently-awkward situation boils over.

Confusing and disquieting, the production succeeds by virtue of being just that. It is meant to blur distinctions and provoke laughter, to be at once a tragedy and a comedy. Admittedly slow to start, “Fool For Love” woos the audience, gradually investing it in the nuances of its trajectory. In the end, the audience leaves ultimately convinced of Eddie’s claim that “there’s not a movie in town that can match the story” he can tell.

The piece focuses on the theme of repetition through the lens of shifting emotions; it plays with time and the boundaries of reality. It defines the difference between a realist and a fantasist.

Ever confronted with a living history, the characters must decide whether they will embrace it, and whether they must relive it. The narrative is located between now and then; the production is conditioned by their interaction.

The cast convincingly embodies their tortured love. After a while, their Texan accents sound natural. Surprisingly, the scripted affectations fail to distract from the raw emotions they convey. The actors accomplish the rare feat of embodying their roles — communicating to the audience their status as average, Western cow-folk (gender neutral) in love.

A single room — furnished with an ill-made, wooden bed, a table flanked by two chairs, yellowing blinds, a bureau and rocking chair seating an observant geriatric armed with a paper-bagged bottle — hosts the action. The set is appropriately evocative of infested rooms in no-named motels nationwide. By the additions of lasso, rifle and “tequila” (it fizzes?), the room transforms into an old-fashioned rodeo come to life … at least for Eddie.

His promises to May are somehow full of authenticity and devoid of substance. We want to believe Eddie. He wants to believe himself, but none of us is sure. And once May takes the reins to finish the story, we want to believe in their love. But when Eddie’s horses are destroyed at the hands of his infidelity, the vestiges of his fantasy world disappear, and with it, he walks out the door with one last promise, echoing loudly its hollowness.

Throughout this eccentric production, we are left to determine whether Eddie’s world is fact or fantasy. At its conclusion, we are left to determine whether he will return. Like Martin, we face a major complication. At the mere suggestion that it’s all a lie, what do we believe?

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