Fool for Love is pure Sam Shepard, as the playwright packs in an explosive blend of myth and Eros, ambiguity and knee-in-the-gut certitude, boiling it all down into less than an hour of existential essence. The current rendition at Roger Williams University Barn Summer Playhouse (through June 27) will impress even demanding theatergoers with its emotional confidence and finesse.
A description of the play makes it sound like a country music love song, but it's more of a Sturm und Drang aria, all emotional high notes. Two recently estranged longtime lovers are together again in a Mojave Desert motel room, an apt setting for their sizzling relationship and a reminder of the arid lives they live without each other. After a while, her date shows up, which adds to the tension and potential violence. Eventually, an old man who has been observing everything from a corner pipes up, in their imaginations, and we learn more about the couple's compulsive love-hate relationship, complicated by jealousies on her part and irresponsibility on his.
Since it's the feelings rather than the facts of the story that matter, the tone and pacing are crucial, and director Dorisa Boggs guides us skillfully. Before the play starts, the audience files in and for nearly 20 minutes sees the three main characters in representative inaction. Rodeo rider Eddie (Kevin Killavey) is oiling a harness; May (Ruth Sullivan) sits immobile on the edge of a bed, slumped forward and faceless, her long red hair cascading down; the character known only as Old Man (John Los) sits in his corner, like a silently nagging conscience.
In this play the actors have to convey as much between the lines as through them. And the main actors here also do exceptionally well when they snap into action. Eddie has driven 2480 miles (he's proudly specific) to get to May, earnestly ready to be with her once again. She alternately doesn't want him to go — at first she clings to his leg — and tells him to get out, that she can't take his always returning only to eventually give up and leave her again. Killavey doesn't overdo either the macho cowboy persona (Eddie also works as a stuntman) or the guy's sensitivity ("I kept crying about your neck . . . weeping, like a little baby"), striking a believable balance.
Sullivan's May is also convincing, whether she furiously expresses her jealousy or wearily tells Eddie she'd hate to live on a farm, a recurring ambition of his. May's gentleman caller, Martin, isn't as clearly defined by the playwright, so Chad Morin has a harder time making him a distinctive character; an undercurrent of suspicious resentment or guilty rage might have helped. As for Los's Old Man, once he begins talking, he is a powerhouse of angry demands and objections. He's also quite an intimidating physical presence, with his craggy face and bushy white eyebrows that deserve a cast credit of their own.
There is no exit, as Sartre put it in another play, from the psychological confines of others. Shepard points out that when the relationship is sexual, the intensity and torment are all the greater.