Tuesday, November 10, 2015

FOOL FOR LOVE is a Manhattan Theatre Club gift to students and audiences

Most Broadway theatre is based on the for-profit model.  Find or write a script, get backers to fund the show, hire a director and the necessary production staff, cast the show, rehearse, publicize the forthcoming production, sell tickets, place the show on a stage, and hopefully sell more tickets so that the funders make a profit.  It is a business model.

According to recent research on Broadway shows from 1994 to 2014,  “21 percent of musical shows recoup their costs, while 79 percent do not.”  Statistics on comedies and dramas are not as easy to find.

Yes, Broadway theatre is a for-profit business!  Well, almost all of it.

For the Manhattan Theatre Club, profit is not the issue.  MTC’s mission is “to produce a season of innovative work with a series of productions as broad and diverse as New York itself, to encourage significant work by creating an environment in which writers and theatre artists are supported by the finest professionals producing theatre today, to nurture new talent in playwriting, musical composition, directing, acting and design, and to reach out to audiences with innovative programs in education and maintain a commitment to cultivating the next generation of theatre professionals.”  Strong emphasis is placed on an intensive Development Program and an Education Program.

On the day I saw Sam Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE, the theatre was populated almost exclusively by students.  Conversations with some of the teens and the organization’s Director of Education indicated that the play had been read as part of class assignments and then discussed.   As became obvious during the show, and in the after-production question-and-answer session with the actors, these kids were not only well-mannered and attentive, but well-versed.   Their questions were probing and on target.

Sam Shepard’s FOOL FOR LOVE opened at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco in February of 1983.  It starred Ed Harris and Kathy Baker and was a finalist for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  It opened off-Broadway in May of 1983 with the Magic Theatre cast, and then moved onto Broadway for an extended run.

The present Broadway production opened at the Williamstown Theater Festival in July, 2014 and transferred to The Samuel J. Friedman Theater in October of this year.

The play focuses on May and Eddie who have known each other since high school.  Their connection is toxic and often volatile.  May seemingly has found some sort of peace in a small Mojave Desert town, but Eddie shows up and invades her room in a run down motel, seemingly interested in reigniting their relationship. 

Eddie wants May to come with him to a trailer on a farm.  May refuses because she has gone through the destructive cycle before.  She has also started to develop a friendship with Martin, a shy local man. 

Who are these people?  Part of the answer is supplied by “The Old Man,” a ghost figure, who reveals that he led a double life and May and Eddie are half-siblings, with a common father and different mothers.   The Old Man was not only a philanderer, but an alcoholic.  Eddie appears to be a duplicate, drinking and secretly seeing a woman who May refers to as “The Countess.” 

In a series of rapid occurrences, the Countess shows up and torches Eddie’s car, Martin appears for his date with May, The Old Man becomes delusional, Eddie runs out followed by May.  Will they go together?  What’s to become of them? 

Shepard has written “fool” characters who appear to be doomed, together or apart.  It’s hard to feel any compassion for May or Eddie as they are caught in a maze, and can’t or won’t find their way out.   And, as is his habit, Shepard has created an “iconic father character—that disconnected, alcoholic father who can’t communicate.”

The MTC production is well directed by Daniel Aukin.  The show is nicely paced, holds the audience’s attention, has both the dramatic and comic elements stressed, and develops Shepard’s intent and purpose.

Nina Arianda, 2012 Tony Award winner for VENUS IN FUR, is fierce as May.  How she doesn’t have a body of welts and bruises is surprising.  This is not only a physical role, it’s emotionally exhausting.   Arianda doesn’t portray May, she is May!  Bravo!

Sam Rockwell, best known for his many screen credits, is properly maniac as the obsessed Eddie.  He intensely creates a man who works totally on emotion, with little logic being exercised.  The physical chemistry between Rockwell and Arianda is electric.

Gordon Joseph Weiss sits on a chair, slightly off the motel room set, and observes.  When The Old Man finally speaks, he compels attention with his drunken, mumbling cadence.  When he rises and displays his wrath, he continues to command attention. 

As Martin, Tom Pelphrey enters into the fray like a deer in the headlights. He shows complete confusion as he is manipulated by both May and Eddie.  He may be the only character who has any hope of getting out of the situation without being psychologically destroyed.

Capsule judgment:  The Manhattan Theatre Club’s FOOL FOR LOVE is a powerful play that is well directed and performed.  It delves into the psychological weaknesses of people who find themselves unable or unwilling to move forward in a healthy way.  It is a good lesson for how not to live ones life for the numerous students who will see the production as part of the MTC mission.  As a side pay-off, anyone who can attend when the teens are in attendance will gain respect for the MTC program and the youth who are fortunate to be involved. 

FOOL FOR LOVE is being staged by the Manhattan Theatre Club in the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York.  Its run has been extended through December 13, 2015.