It comes as no great shock that Sam Shepard wrote Fool for Love shortly after divorcing his wife. The whole plotline of the hour-long play, which opened Friday, September 6, at Jungle Theater, focuses on love in all its heartbreaking, agonizing, infuriating glory.
Shepard sets the scene for his dismal view of life’s grandest emotion in a dingy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Artistic director Bain Boehlke lives up to his reputation for stellar set design and casting by crafting a room that feels sketchy in every sense of the word and filling it with four actors whose chemistry is palpable: Terry Hempleman (Eddie), Jennifer Blagen (May), Allen Hamilton (The Old Man), and Jason Peterson (Martin).
The bulk of the action surrounds Eddie, a slow-talking, heavy-drinking trucker, and May, his high-strung, emotionally unstable lover. The pair’s relationship is murky at best as the play opens, their conversation (read: arguments) running in vague circles around themes of betrayal and distrust.
Eddie has driven more than 2,000 miles to come see May and take her with him to his latest dream: starting a ranch out West. May will have none of this, though, accusing Eddie of abandoning her for “The Countess,” and for making promises he and she both know he’ll never keep. Hints of detail as to what May is referring to surface momentarily, but then fade quickly, leaving the audience to wonder what brought them together in the first place and why the level of tension is so much higher than in typical lovers’ quarrels.
Meanwhile, The Old Man sits off to stage right, rocking slowly, drinking, and cringing each time Eddie and May’s argument reaches dangerous, almost violent, levels. His role becomes clear as the stories deepen and the conversation spirals with more specifics, revealing elements of the past—Eddie and May met in high school and immediately fell in love, May has a history of drinking, Eddie has history of abandoning May to chase unrealistic dreams—but it isn’t until the white-haired, big-bellied man inserts monologues of his own that his character develops. Hamilton, who most recently played Pozzo in Waiting for Godot at the Jungle, brings the same level of intensity and sizzle he did then to his role here, his volume and larger-than-life presence adding to the already boiling tension building between the lead characters. Hempleman and Blagen complement each other well, each infusing their roles with enough passion and frustration to make their unrequited love feel authentic.
When Peterson finally appears as May’s movie date, his awkward nervousness balances out the scene perfectly, sparking the flame that will eventually build to an all-consuming fire of disbelief and distorted reality. Fool for Love is a true Shepard masterpiece—a drama filled with unanswered questions that challenge the norm and make the audience reconsider what really is right and wrong, reality or fantasy. As Eddie and May’s stories unfold, you’re left wanting to take sides until you realize you can’t: not because you can’t empathize or commiserate, but because after an hour of getting to know the two characters’ stories, you’re left with more questions than you started. Which is right where Shepard wants you.
Fool for Love
Through October 20
Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-7063