Review by Seth Rogovoy
(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., July 24, 2014) – If nothing else – and there’s plenty else, believe me – the production of “Fool for Love” running through August 2 on the Nikos Stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival reminds us why Sam Shepard is one of America’s greatest playwrights, living or dead. The play, like so much of his work, is veritably imbued with Americana in a meeting of the mythic, the psychological, and the brutally realistic. It could well be called “An American Tragedy.”
In just a little over an hour, the play hits so many of Shepard’s familiar obsessions – family dysfunction, secrets and lies, celebrity culture, delusions, dreams, violence, impotence, betrayal, sex, love – written and performed with great economy yet in brilliant language that explodes with poetry and humor faster than you keep up with: “I’m smarter than you are; I can smell your thoughts before you even think them.”
The production is nearly flawless (kudos to director Daniel Aukin) and also reminds us that, when push comes to shove, nothing tops Williamstown at its best. Set, sound, staging, lighting – all are effective and seamless. This ain’t no summer stock, let’s put on a show, hey let’s do Sam Shepard for a change. This is deep commitment to the theater that matters, drama that speaks our language, that throws our lives and culture in our faces and in our laps, that challenges at the same time it entertains.
And does it ever entertain. With one exception, the opening night cast was flawless. Nina Arianda, all lithe and long-limbed yet still believable as a motel trash femme fatale, fully inhabits the role of May. The audience, like the men who vie for her attention, can never quite pin her down. This is of course built into the script – no one at all can be pinned down, because the play is really four simultaneous plays, dreams, or delusions of four different characters (four characters in search of reality?) – but through her singleminded devotion to the language and her confidence in her delivery, Arianda delivers. Same goes for Christopher Abbott as the amiable, simple Martin and Gordon Joseph Weiss as the Old Man – part Greek chorus, part conjurer of the whole shebang (literally – if there is a literal in this play — and figuratively, which there most certainly is).
But not so much Sam Rockwell as Eddie. He was fine, and Shepard’s writing is so powerful and clear that the play still worked. But Rockwell’s Eddie lacked a bit of intensity or menace that would fully justify the real menacing threat that the script seems to require, that the story, such as it is – and which I’m purposely not going to recount, because it really is besides the point. Let’s just call it Greek myth meets William Shakespeare as imagined by Tennessee Williams, stripped to the bone by Samuel Beckett and then processed, pulverized, and re-envisioned for the punk-rock era by Sam Shepard.
Maybe it was opening night jitters; maybe it’s a casting problem. Maybe Rockwell will kick into gear tonight. I hesitate to say this, because it’s based on a fluke meeting before the show (and he’ll probably hate me for saying this), but I ran into Rockwell’s friend, actor Walton Goggins, heading into the theater on opening night, and I just couldn’t help imagining the entire time how perfect Goggins would be in the role, with that natural glint in his eye, that something extra (including the hint of a Southern drawl) he has – the hint that he could blow up at any time — that would really have kicked this one not only over the goalposts – it succeeds that much – but all the way out of the stadium.