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“No matter how I think we grow/
You always seem to let me know/
It ain’t workin’, It ain’t workin’/
And when I try to walk away/
You hurt yourself to make me stay/
This is crazy, This is crazy…”
– Lauryn Hill, “Ex-Factor”, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
What is it about the wrong relationships that make us stay when we know we shouldn’t? Putting aside things like emotional blackmail or literal imprisonment, what is it about toxic relationships that keep otherwise rational people of free will in situations they know are destructive? Misguided nostalgia for better times? The knowledge that you could leave at any time, but fail to realise that you should? Perhaps it’s the belief that you’re just going through a rough patch and that it’ll all be better?
Whatever the reason, you’re not doing yourself any favors by staying in such a relationship. It’s been said that you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced that kind of love, but anyone who has wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy.
Fool for Love is a play about the worst people being bound together, but unable to tear themselves away from one another.
In a cheap motel in the Mojave Desert, lovers May and Eddie try to hash out where their relationship now stands. Eddie is jealous of the thought of May with another man that night, May has finally had it with Eddie’s repeated infidelities. As they bicker, drink, and deeply kiss, they’re joined by the spectre of an “old man” who seems to know them both intimately. With May’s date on the way and Eddie’s new mistress creating a nuisance, the only thing certain about this night is that love has made fools of them all.
Fool for Love has a long history with the Magic. Shepard premiered the play with them in 1983, as he served as playwright-in-residence. That original production starred Ed Harris and Kathy Baker as Eddie and May, respectively, and was a finalist for Pulitzer Prize in Drama. It was also made into a little-seen 1985 film adaptation directed by Robert Altman. Now, after 34 years, the play has returned to the Magic as a “Legacy Revival”.
So how does it hold up? As a play, pretty damn well. Shepard’s modern-day Western plays and characters will, at best, become more and more interesting as they reveal themselves. With no era-specific references to date the material, it’s easy to believe that this flea-bag motel chamber play could take place today as well as it did in ’83. After all, doing stupid things at the behest of one’s heart (and/or loins) isn’t exactly a new development.
Unfortunately, the cast isn’t quite up to the challenge. They seem confused as to whether to play the material straight or irreverently. What’s more, they never seem to get a handle on how their characters talk, both in terms of intent and accent. (Pastides seemed to attempt an accent in the opening lines before abandoning it altogether, and I’m not sure Campbell tried the accent at all.) The two leads come off too overwrought, and the remaining two – Rod Gnapp as “Old Man” and Patrick Russell as “Martin,” May’s date – at times sounded as if they were reading their lines for the first time. It gave the impression of a would-be Tennessee Williams production rather than the intimacy of a Shepard piece.
The production is far more successful on a technical level. Artistic Director Loretta Greco’s use of Andrew Boyce’s rather spartan set works at creating a claustrophobic environment out of an area that has no walls. This, combined with the fact that the stage is on a raised platform, suggests the audience is peeping on a scientific experiment or a prison cell. Very effective.
What few signs we see of the outside world are perfectly conveyed Christopher Akerlind’s lights and Sara Huddleston’s sounds. I won’t spoil it, but the sequences in which Eddie’s new mistress drives up to motel are both hilarious and terrifying at the same time.
While not a perfect production, it’s not hard to guess why the Magic is proud to have Fool for Love as part of its lasting legacy. It’s themes of buried secrets and toxic relationships are just as resonant now as they were more than 30 years ago. As long as there are people willing to fall in love, there will be unhealthy obsessions and destructive actions done on its behalf.
Fool for Love is playing until Feb. 25 at the Magic Theatre at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.
For tickets and information, please visit the Magic’s official site here.
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