In the midst of a passionate embrace, May knees Eddie in the groin. “I don’t understand my feelings,” says May, trapped in the tumult of fervent love and violent hate. For 15 years, the relationship between May and Eddie has been obsessive and ambivalent. The fact that they share the same father makes their union a kind of mythical, elemental and inescapable coupling.
At the outset of Sam Shepard’s emotionally exhausting Fool for Love, Eddie has tracked May down to a shabby motel room on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert. She had left him after he began fooling around with a wealthy woman known as “The Countess.” Eddie claims he has driven his truck and a loaded horse carrier 2,480 miles to find May, and he is determined that she return to share his trailer in Wyoming. May cannot live with Eddie, but she cannot live without him.
First produced in 1983, Fool for Love lacks the thematic complexities and broad humor of Buried Child (1979) and True West (1980). Nor does it feature stage business with husks of corn or stolen toasters. But it is intense and brutal, even if, defying Chekhov’s famous adage, the shotgun Eddie totes never discharges. Shepard’s instructions call for productions to be “performed relentlessly, without a break,” and that is exactly what director George Green manages for a riveting 70 minutes (Green, who is also CEO and artistic director of The Playhouse, began his directorial career, in 1990, with Fool for Love). Except for occasional commentary by the Old Man and the arrival of Martin, May’s nebbishy date for the evening, the play is a crazy cage match between two pugnacious lovers. And the black-box intimacy of The Playhouse’s Cellar Theater keeps the audience captive in that cage.
Damon Metzer’s Eddie is a grungy cowboy who wants what he wants though he is not sure what that is. Despite vowing to May: “You’ll never get rid of me,” he cannot entirely give up The Countess, who lurks outside in the motel parking lot. Holly Clifford’s frowzy May is at her wit’s end, especially when recounting how Eddie’s mother blew her brains out for love of the fickle Old Man. Bill Gundry provides a ghostly chorus as that bibulous fantasist who sired both Eddie and May. When May tells Eddie that she is expecting a gentleman caller, Eddie replies: “This guy’s gotta be a twerp.” And that is just what Michael Zaiontz’s nerdy Martin, a stark contrast to Eddie, turns out to be. No more than the other characters, he is one of Shepard’s dippy sheep.
Fool for Love, $10-$40, 8pm Fri-Sat, 3pm Sun, The Playhouse, 800 W. Ashby Pl., (210) 733-7258, theplayhousesa.org. Through Feb. 5