Cygnet Theatre is running two of Sam Shepard’s plays in repertory: True West and Fool for Love. In Cygnet’s opening day/night double bill last Sunday, True West came off the stronger [to be reviewed 10/15]. Though in many ways Fool (1982) is the more interesting.
It’s the first Shepard wrote with a developed female character. “I wish he’d write a play for women!” actor Joyce Aaron complained in the early Eighties. The Tooth of Crime, Curse of the Starving Class, Pulitzer Prize-winner Buried Child, True West, and 15 or so others feature almost all-male casts.
Compared to the others, which unfold like long yarns, Fool is more a chamber piece, but played by anarchic house musicians.
Throughout the play, what you see is not what you thought. May looks stuck in a run-down motel room on the edge of the Mojave, where the sign outside spills red neon pools on the floor. But she’s actually on the mend. She quit drinking, has a “real” job, and a date for tonight.
(In Fool and True West, Shepard hands you a stereotype and then spins it — and you — on its ear. In West, there’s no way Lee’s a golfer. But he hits a pitching wedge to two feet on hole #9, beats a high-buck producer, and probably plays near scratch).
All would be fine at the motel if May’s stepbrother Eddie hadn’t missed her neck. He missed all of her, he says, but he drove 2480 miles because her “neck kept coming up for some reason.”
Eddie also came at an auspicious time because their father’s ghost sits in a chair against the wall. Or are May and Eddie his ghosts? Is he projecting a “mind picture” of them just like the one he has about being married to Barbara Mandrell?
There’s talk of Eddie seeing a Countess. But he’s a broken-down stuntman. Another Shepardian flip. Yes, Lee can play golf, and yes, there is a Countess, or at least someone Eddie’s enraged enough to buck-shoot the windows of his truck.
In True West, the brothers are inseparable. So are May and Eddie. “I can smell your thoughts before you think them,” she tells him. They’re stuck like Velcro and when they separate, you can almost hear it tear.
Cygnet’s opening night was technically proficient. Director Sean Murray’s set had the bleached out feel of an old, dusty motel. Jessica John’s costumes had authenticity, and Matt Lescault-Wood honored Shepard’s exaggerated sounds. Slamming doors reverberate surrealistically (when he directed the original, Shepard put speakers in the audience to intensify the noise). We are, and are not, in a Mojave motel.
Veterans Manny Fernandes (May’s date, Martin) and Antonio TJ Johnson (The Old Man) turned in fine work. And Carla Harting and Frances Gercke were capable as May and Eddie. They had the moves, and the attraction/repulsion like a spinning coin, but felt somehow apart from each other. There wasn’t a palpable sexual attraction — the “fool” for love — or the kind of danger just having the two of them together can incite. You couldn’t hear the Velcro tear.