By Luis Restrepo (@LuissimoLuis)
Pat Benatar must have been alluding to Sam Shepard’s brilliant and raw Fool For Love when she wrote “Love is a Battlefield”. And as many pop anthems will tell you, love can leave you bloodied and bruised. Deep cuts and irreparable wounds permeate throughout the Manhattan Theatre Club’s sparkling new revival of Fool For Love starring Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell.
Sam Shepard has now become symbolic for his wrinkled, stony, no-holds-barred cowboy stories. Stories of men living in deserts with codes of conduct, reservations, and emotional walls. Which is why this lesser known 1983 play, Fool For Love, stands as such an anomaly. We have the cowboy figure. We have the seedy highway motel. We have the desert loneliness. But we also have an incredibly focused and magnetized contemplation on love and its many faults. The story centers around Eddie (Rockwell) and May (Arianda). Two very flawed individuals clearly fighting a past and an unbreakable connection that has become a festering wound of grudges and regrets. We meet them in a motel in a very focused moment of staging by the inspired Daniel Aukin. Staging that turns this mostly two-hander into a balletic fight of power. We learn that May has been escaping Eddie, Eddie has been escaping May, and neither of them ever seem to be on the same page when it comes to being with each other. The separation and lack of trust has caused their love to disintegrate but neither is ready to let go.
Shepard explores the pitfalls of love and pride with the brilliance of the most sensible of poets and the raw power of a boxer. For words and punches are thrown back and forth with equal value. The insights that Shepard brings in regards to our relationships with those who we love, and specially those who are wrong for us, are nothing short of brilliant. “It was the same love but split in two,” proclaims Eddie in one of the play’s most beautiful sequences. It is this idea that we can’t always love one person, that our love is conditional, and that the rules of relationships are still as unclear to us as the mysteries of deep space that permeates both the play and this production.
This new revival is brought to life by Aukin with simple, yet incredibly precise, staging. A transfer from Williamstown Theatre Festival (from 2014), this production has had time to make every movement, and every decision so calculated and concentrated that all its work is transparent. A feat that is rarely seen on a Broadway stage. It’s hard to say whether this can be attributed to the short but fast paced running time, the constant movement of characters and ideas, or the honest words that hit like a knife, but this production allows for complete escapism from the confines of your theatre seat and into a scary mirror-like world where our fears about love and abandonment are explored with intensity and freedom. The chemistry that abounds between the pairing of Eddie and May, and their portrayals so vividly brought to life by Rockwell and Arianda, is equal parts electrifying and terrifying. There is a particularly haunting scene where Rockwell uses a lasso to pull objects around the stage. We all know that this lasso might be holding a chair or a lamp, but its connection lies in May who sits across the room. We know that at any moment he will try to pull that lasso on her, and that idea is terrifying. Same goes for Rockwell and Arianda. Even when one or the other is not in direct contact, we know that at any moment their eyes will meet and the consequences may be scary. Neither of these actors is afraid to throw a punch, either verbally or physically. And just like in real life, we know the moment that lasso hits it won’t be on fresh flesh, but on the wounds from the last time it landed.