Theatre Review: ‘Fool for Love’ at Pinch ‘N’ Ouch

Photos courtesy Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre.

Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre is presenting Sam Shepard’s irresistible, 80-minute play “Fool for Love,” directed by Grant McGowen, through Oct. 27.

You may know that Mr. Shepard, who left this world too soon in 2017, was both an actor and a Pulitzer-winning playwright. I think it’s important to remember that he knew what worked on stage and film from an actor’s viewpoint.

But it’s as a playwright that he will be most remembered. In his obituary for Mr. Shepard in the New York Times, Ben Brantley called him “one of the most important and influential writers of his generation, who specialized in capturing the darker sides of American family life…His hallucinatory plays redefined the landscape of the American West and its inhabitants.”|

To me, his plays often have a dreamlike quality and a wacky sexual abandon that I find hypnotic. He creates a mirage-like ambience, a quaint little motel in the middle of a desert (like “Fool for Love”).

Despite world-wide stagings of his plays, he was never what you’d call a mainstream commercial playwright. “Sam wrote from a place, a zone of trauma, mystery, and grief,” remarks fellow playwright Christopher Shinn. “He took risks.” The New Yorker’s Edith Oliver wrote that “he brings fresh news of love, here and now, in all its potency and deviousness and foolishness.”

We find ourselves in one of those little motels in the Nevada (I think) desert. I must tell you that I know such places exist, because long ago a group of high school students (including yours truly) made a cross country trip; we spent a night in a dumpy little motel near White Sands, New Mexico. I’ve never forgotten it. Sam Shepard would have loved it. I remember strange girls walked by our room in the middle of the night and tried to engage us in conversation—through the window. Dreamlike? Oh, yes. End of reminiscence.

May (Candace Brooke), an attractive young woman, has ensconced herself in a room in such a place. She is stalked, shall we say, by her former boyfriend Eddie (Kasey O’Barr), an attractive young man. The two are currently on the outs with each other—sort of. You see, they tend to infuriate each other, but they are still tremendously attracted to each other.

Eddie shows up, of course; and after some hesitation May lets him in—of course. Ms. Brooke and Mr. O’Barr are fiery, funny, sexy, and a little crazy. They are indeed fools for love. The two actors are talented and magnetic and absolutely nail their characters. You can’t take your eyes off them (you couldn’t if you tried in Pinch’s intimate space), and I am now a fan of both.

Being a Shepard play, there is weirdness. An Old Man (Alex Van) sits in a corner during most of the action and occasionally comments. He may be the father of one of them—or both. (Don’t be shocked—not the same mother.) Or maybe he isn’t.

In a particularly heated moment a man named Martin (Philip Mertz), who seems to be courting May, bursts in. Eddie is not pleased, or predictable. May is unsure what to do. The Old Man mutters something; nothing is really resolved. You know about inhibitions? Nobody here has any. Again, you can’t look away.

If you’re not familiar with Sam Shepard’s work, “Fool for Love” is a perfect introduction. Some years ago I saw his darker, Pulitzer-winning “Buried Child.” Unforgettable—Shepard was quite prolific; by 1980 the most produced playwright in America, after Tennessee Williams.

Director McGowen is flawless here—and invisible. I love it that Pinch ‘N’ Ouch is doing Albee and Shepard and other greats now. Their intimate space has become a favorite of mine; I’m sure the late Mr. Shepard himself would enjoy this space and these actors. Perhaps he’s watching from afar.

For tickets and information, visit pnotheatre.org.

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