Written by Sam Shepard

Directed by Daniel Aukin

In the blasted heath of the post-Vietnam America, the music of life seems to veer from a country-western torch song to a dissonant modernist dirge. Virile antiheroes wander in search of a lost world. They know they’re archetypes. They also know that the mythic landscape to which they belong is disappearing below their cowboy boots. We are in Sam Shepard country.

One of his leaner efforts, FOOL FOR LOVE exhibits much of Shepard’s trademark physicality and macabre lyricism, but is free of the discursive quality found in some of his longer works. At first the premise feels like a familiar relationship dynamic: the prodigal male rationalizes, the woman berates, demands contrition, then gradually forgives. But as submerged truths being to bubble to the surface, the story takes a turn toward Greek tragedy. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons, and the illusion of free will is beaten into submission by the fact of fate.

In a seedy desert motel, May (Nina Arianda), attempts to rebuild her life after broken promises have derailed her dreams. Understandably, she isn’t thrilled when Eddie (Sam Rockwell) ambles back into her life. After all, he’s the man responsible, in her view, for all those shattered hopes. Though she brutally recriminates him, May can’t seem to make a clean break with Eddie: there is too much history between them. Eddie, too, seems unable to exist without May. As he practices swinging his lariat ( a hazardous activity in the confines of a hotel room), he paints a rosy picture of the life he and May could have together. Once upon a time, the two dreamed of buying a ranch back in their home town. Now Eddie says he’s ready to make the move. May isn’t having it. She wants to get on with her new life, which includes a new job and a potential boyfriend, Martin (Tom Pelphrey). As the saying goes though, we may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us. Something deep inside keeps May and Eddie psychologically lassoed together. The story behind their bond is revealed gradually, as a voice from another time resounds from the edge of the stage. The Old Man (Gordon Joseph Weiss) is an introjection in Eddie’s psyche. He isn’t really there, but his influence is undeniable. As he muses, a disturbing picture emerges of the troubled origins and dark future of May and Eddie’s star-crossed relationship.

Rockwell and Arianda, thoroughly in synch as befits the story, take turns dominating the stage. Both jump wholeheartedly into their roles, balancing restless kineticism with grace, intelligence and dry wit. Weiss, who gets the lion’s share of the Shepardian dithyrambs, wrings mournful music out of his soliloquies. As the guileless Martin, Pelphrey not only provides an apt foil for Rockwell’s comedic persona, but poignantly embodies the wholesome, straightforward life that May craves but will never attain. Dane Laffrey’s scenic design and Justin Townsend’s lighting evoke a film noir-esque sense of secrecy and despair. Director Daniel Aukin, in tune with the play’s internal rhythms, skillfully controls the pacing to maximize the dizzying highs and somber lows of the doomed couple’s emotional rollercoaster.

FOOL FOR LOVE continues through December 13, 2015 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre  261 West 47th Street, Between Broadway and 8th Avenue, New York NY 10036. Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400.

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