When Patti Smith met Sam Shepard back in the day, she thought he was a drummer cowboy named Slim Shadow, until Jackie Curtis set her straight, "He's the biggest playwright off-Broadway. He won five Obies!" Now his Fool for Love is on Broadway under Daniel Aukin's expert direction at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, an MTC production from the highly charged Williamstown revival this past summer. A regular "Marlboro Man," Eddie, in hat, boots, and swiveling hips signals the cowboy swagger. Sam Rockwell inhabits Eddie, wielding a rifle, a lariat, and tackling his lover May with balletic skill, until she knees his groin. With Nina Arianda in this role, May gives as good as she gets. For a tight 90 minutes, they go at each other in a spare, grim motel room in Nowheresville, the Mojave Desert's edge. From Eddie's first words: "I'm not leaving," you are in the play's intense grip, pondering: who are these people?
That question of identity is part of the fun as the characters parse "guy" from "man" in terms of a "gentleman caller" who arrives to take May to the movies. Martin (Tom Pelphrey) doesn't know what hits him as Eddie micro-manages the date. You might stay right here in this room, Eddie suggests, baiting Martin, as if he were jealous of May's new man. "And do what?" Martin's kinda dumb. Tell stories, says Eddie, and that's exactly what they do, only it's Eddie and Martin going at it verbally, poetically, filling the audience in on just who Eddie and May are to one another, and why they circle each other, one running away, the other chasing. Seated at the side of this set is a Greek chorus of a character, The Old Man (Gordon Joseph Weiss), a fount of family lore, as if he were the ghost of some parental figure. May rushes out of the bathroom, slamming doors, with her suitcase already packed. Lookout! May and Eddie are about to cycle again
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.