August 10, 2016

“Fool for Love” Concludes Princeton Summer Theater Season With Sam Shepard’s Hard-Hitting Story of Frustrated Passions

2016 PST Fool For Love

BATTLEGROUND OF PASSION: Eddie (Matthew Seely) and May (Olivia Nice) can’t live without each other, but they know they can never live together in Sam Shepard’s conflict-fraught drama, “Fool for Love,” Princeton Summer Theater’s final show of the season at the Hamilton Murray Theater and plays for one more weekend. (Photo by Noel Valero)

Eddie: “It’s no fantasy.”

May: “It’s all a fantasy.”

Eddie and May confront each other in a rundown motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert. They have been lovers off and on for more than 15 years. Eddie, who has a history of going off and leaving May for extended periods of time, has just returned as the lights rise at the start of the play. Haunted by thoughts of May, he has driven across the country to find her, and once again he has plans for settling down with her.

They are in love, and their love is a constant battlefield. They cannot live without each other, but they know, and have proven to themselves many times, that they cannot possibly live together.

This passionate, hopeless, obsessive relationship drives the action in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love (1983), currently playing in a powerful production that wraps up Princeton Summer Theater’s 2016 season.

“We’ve got a pact,” Eddie (Matthew Seely) says. “You know we’re connected, May. We’ll always be connected. That was decided a long time ago.”

“Nothing was decided! You made all that up,” May (Olivia Nice) responds. She wants nothing more than for Eddie to leave — but she also wants him to stay. “I can’t take it anymore,” she says. “I get sick every time you come around. Then I get sick when you leave. You’re like a disease to me.”

The confinement of the seedy motel room with its dirt-stained green walls, ragged venetian blinds and unmade bed, in Jeffrey Van Velsor’s stark, realistic unit set, with evocative lighting by Alex Mannix, is both literal and figurative. There is no escape for Eddie and May.

The motel-room setting does not change during the course of the play, but the territory is just as emotional and psychological as it is literal, just as surrealistic as it is naturalistic. The relationship between Eddie and May is dynamically physical, sexually charged, and also violent and angry. At a telling point, a passionate embrace and prolonged kiss precipitates another round in the battle, as May knees Eddie in the crotch and he falls to the floor in pain.

The audience engages with the characters in their search to make sense out of who they are, why they can’t live with each other or apart from each other, why they are doomed to repeat the cycle of leaving and returning over and over again. As the drama proceeds, they must tell their stories, fighting against each other to define reality, struggling to make sense of their lives and passions.

Existing somewhere in the minds of Eddie and May, but sitting in a rocking chair downstage right just outside the walls of the motel room, is The Old Man (Jake McCready), watching everything as he drinks whiskey from a Styrofoam cup. He turns out, apparently, to be father to both Eddie and May, from relationships that he carried on secretly, simultaneously with two different women.

Under the direction of Ogemdi Ude, this highly capable, professional cast understands the complexity here and digs deeply into these troubled characters.

Mr. Seely’s Eddie and Ms. Nice’s May are consistently in character, bringing these lovers to life, engaging the audience in their battle for love, identity, and understanding.

Effectively portraying this displaced modern cowboy, with his spurs and lasso and horse trailer parked outside, Mr. Seely’s Eddie is a dreamer. He clashes dramatically with Ms. Nice’s May, a realist. “I’ll believe the truth!” she says “It’s less confusing.” More than a worthy antagonist for Eddie, she is perhaps the most interesting, three-dimensional female character in all of Shepard’s work.

Mr. McCready’s Old Man is a forceful presence, even when sitting silently, and though he exists only in Eddie and May’s minds, they acknowledge his presence and talk to him, and he comes onto the stage to interact with them at a crucial point in the play. All three main characters tell their stories poignantly, persuasively in memorable monologues.

Mr. McCready, Ms. Nice, and Mr. Seely have all shown admirable versatility and astonishing skill in embodying the diverse characters of Princeton Summer Theater’s intriguing array of shows this summer, from Assassins to God of Carnage to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, and Fool for Love.

A fourth character here, Martin (Connor McElwee), arrives about two-thirds of the way through the play to take May on a date to the movies. Martin, a local maintenance man, is an incongruity in the strange, tension-fraught world of Eddie and May, an intruder from the real world, where people have regular jobs, responsibilities, families, and lives in the community. Mr. McElwee’s Martin effectively shares the audience’s perplexed perspective as the outsider, the detached observer, placed suddenly and awkwardly in the midst of this bizarre relationship.

Ms. Ude has directed with intelligence and sensitivity to the idiosyncratic characters and their interconnectedness. The original script calls for the play “to be performed relentlessly without a break,” and Ms. Ude faithfully follows that stage direction with this high energy, rapidly paced show, lasting only 70 minutes.

What this production could use, however, to convey more fully the weight of these proceedings, is a slower pace at key junctures, a bit more time spent highlighting the moments, lingering over the images of May and Eddie and the Old Man that — more than words, ideas, themes, or even the particular characters — should remain in the memory, define this play, and communicate its depths of emotion.

The 1984 Obie winner and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Fool for Love was first performed at the Magic Theater in San Francisco before moving to the Circle Rep Off-Broadway. Mr. Shepard himself played the role of Eddie in a 1985 film version with Kim Basinger and Harry Dean Stanton, and the play was successfully revived again last year on Broadway.

Fool for Love may be narrower, less rich in scope than other Shepard “family” plays, like Curse of the Starving Class (1977), Pulitzer-Prize-winning Buried Child (1979), True West (1980) and A Lie of the Mind (1985), but nowhere in Mr. Shepard’s work is there greater intensity of emotion and passion or a more fascinating male-female relationship. Princeton Summer Theater, in its finale to an exciting, richly rewarding season, proves eminently capable of capturing and communicating the essential, most important elements of Shepard’s genius.

“Fool for Love” will run for one more weekend, August 11-14, with shows at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus. Call (732) 997-0205 or visit for information.