If you think your relationship is dysfunctional, wait 'til you meet May and Eddie.
The dueling lovers at the center of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love are so enmeshed in a cycle of tragic affection that they barely know what’s real anymore, circling around each other’s version of the truth like a couple of wounded jackals.
They tussle, they reconcile, they fight again, each pass of the heart taking them deeper into towards the root of a well-kept secret. Told with a visceral ferocity that sweeps its audience into the fray, their story is a fascinating study of what keep us coming back to the ones we love, even when it means entering back into the storm.
It takes a certain courage to present such complex intimacy onstage, and the cast of the Collective Face’s production of Fool for Love has welcomed the challenge.
“We feel comfortable having these raw emotions,” explains Collective Face founding member Maggie Hart, who plays the hard-bitten but hopeful May.
“We’re a family-based company, we have a lot of trust. That’s essential while we’re trying to find these characters in a safe environment.”
Both Hart and co-star Richie Cook have worked together in previous Collective Face productions, including The Glass Menagerie and Angels in America, so they’re no strangers to emotionally-charged material or to each other. Still, the stark depth of Fool for Love has peeled back another layer for these skilled actors. (In addition to regular Collective Face appearances, Hart works at the Savannah Children’s Theatre and as a character tour guide downtown; Cook was last seen in Savannah Theatre’s production of Les Miserables.)
“I like the confusion of it,” says Cook of his role as the rodeo-battered Eddie. “A lot comes out of the rehearsal process, and you really grow with the other actors.”
Hart agrees, adding that the performance is a heady culmination of “the research you go through during the show.”
She’s referring not only to the inner soul-searching but also to the outer details: Director David I.L. Poole had his actors delve not only into the script but into the “time capsule” of the Wild West in the late 1970s. The playwright’s life also served as inspiration in the form of a documentary Shepard & Dark. As a cast, they discovered that around the time the play was written, Shepard had left his first wife and their child to pursue Hollywood “It” girl Jessica Lange—ostensibly informing the brutal tug-of-war central to Fool for Love.
“All the best writing in plays is biographical,” informs Poole of his motives. “Think of Long Day’s Journey into Night, Streetcar, The Glass Menagerie—they’re all, in their way, telling their author’s stories.”
Such information adds nuance to the performance, and exploring the every possible emotional note of these characters is the relentless goal of the director.
“It’s like orchestrating a symphony,” considers Poole. “There is this gritty realism to this play as well a surrealistic quality that’s constantly changing.”
Shepard is known in his plays for presenting families and relationships unadorned in all their genuine roughness, relying little on theatrical device or pandering tricks. Here, however, he employs sound effects to amplify the chaos and shatter the boundaries between reality and truth. Only two other characters come into May and Eddie’s tumultuous orbit: The mysterious father figure (Connect A&E editor Bill DeYoung) who seems to move between the real and surreal, and a naïve young man who has fallen for the broken May, played by Christopher Blair.
“He plays the outside element that could take me out of this tornado,” says Hart of Blair’s Martin.
At around 80 minutes, the formidable tempest of Fool for Love’s single, tightly-scripted act might roil up more questions than tie up loose ends. But those willing to look into the eye of the storm will certainly be rewarded with what may be the keenest performances of the year in Savannah.
With its themes of love and lust and hate, it’s far from the typical romance, promises Cook.
“The audience we’re hoping to attract is one that’s open to interpretation rather than folks who want to sit back and be entertained.”