Powerful performances by Chad Doreck and Lauren Plaxco make the Gloria Gifford-directed revival of Sam Shepard’s overwrought one-act Fool For Love now playing at T.U. Studios worth checking out.
Eddie (Doreck) and May (Plaxco) have been on-and-off lovers since high school, the conflicted nature of their obsessive (and compulsive) relationship made obvious from the play’s opening moments set in a dingy Mojave Desert motel room. Despite cowboy Eddie’s calm, affectionate reassurances that he has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon (unless it’s out to pick up some potato chips), an unppreciative May responds, first by grabbing onto Eddie’s leg as if for dear life, then by erupting in rage and pummeling the poor cowpoke with decidedly unfeminine fists.
And this is just the start of eighty minutes of nonstop Drama with a capital D.
No one is a more avid fan of fly-on-the-wall plays than this reviewer, but being a fly on Eddie and May’s walls proves more than a bit too close for comfort, Shepard’s two characters interacting with such physical intimacy that even a voyeur might feel tempted to look away.
A third character sits immobile in Eddie and May’s motel room throughout their thrusts and parries, a character the playwright calls “The Old Man,” an older version of Eddie whose conversations with one or the other of Shepard’s Fools For Love might be either flashbacks or figments or perhaps a bit of both. Regardless, we soon realize that despite his surreal presence in Eddie and May’s room, this old man’s connections with both lovers are real enough, connections that end up making their relationship even more twisted than we’ve already found it to be.
Shepard introduces a fourth character, Martin (Zach Kilian), about two-thirds of the way through, a sweet, trusting hayseed who’s sweet on May, and who brings some refreshing relief from the nonstop tension wrought by two lovers who can’t keep their hands off each other, whether it’s to caress, to hold, to punch, or (in one particularly explicit sequence) to go to first base with.
Though I’m hard put to explain why Fool For Love has achieved contemporary classic status, it’s easy to see why it’s become an actors’ favorite. Juicy doesn’t even begin to describe the roles Shepard has written, particularly for his two leads.
TV fans will recognize Doreck as one of the top four competitors for the role of Danny Zuko on TV’s Grease: You’re the One that I Want!. L.A. theater fans know the tall, dark, and handsome leading man from his many cabaret appearances and most notably from his Best Lead Actor In A Musical Scenie-winning star turn as The Robber Bridegroom. Eddie represents an image-altering change of pace for the Orange County native, one which Doreck attacks with every ounce of his being in a riveting performance that allows audiences to see this triple-threat in a startling new light.
As May, Plaxco recalls a young Jessica Lange, combining blonde beauty with impressive dramatic chops, her work as Shepard’s love-deranged heroine bringing back memories of Lange’s Oscar-nominated title performance as Frances, the 1930s movie star whose own brand of lunacy ended up getting her lobotomized. Plaxco’s exhaustingly high-energy performance as May not only gives her the acting workout of a lifetime, it is one that should bring industry attention to the talented Riverside native.
Gifford alternates two very different “types” in the role of Martin. Kilian (at the performance reviewed) gives May’s naïve young swain an utterly winning all-American blond-next-door sweetness and guilelessness that proves the perfect counterpoint to Doreck’s dark and dangerous Chad.
As for The Old Man, May gets his gruffness just right but could add more notes to make the grizzled cowboy a richer presence in the play.
Scenic designer Jeffrey Casciano has created precisely the bleak desert motel room for Eddie and May’s relentless pas de deux, one which Chris Rivera lights with dramatic flair. Tracey Nelson and Justin Truesdale contribute the production’s effective sound design. The cast’s just-right costumes are uncredited. Only May’s Brycreemed hair seems an odd design choice.
Keith Walker is stage manager. Fool For Love is produced by Jade Warner and Bill Stevenson
Though I will opt to pass on future productions of Fool For Love, Shepard’s overheated salute to obsessive love is worth a look-see as performed to gripping effect by Gloria Gifford’s two talented stars.
T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.
May 26, 2013
Photos: Mathew Caine