Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Family Relations

By Gary Hotvedt

Good theater is alive and well in Music City. Witness an excellent, albeit limited, production of Sam Shepard's Fool for Love, which is currently making an abbreviated "bus and truck" tour of Nashville, with stops at three different venues in town. Presented by Dharma Road Productions, this show teems with heat and tension; it's off-off-Broadway drama at its best.

In Fool for Love, Sam Shepard scrutinizes the doomed relationship between a half-sister and half-brother, May and Eddie. Reminiscent of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, this play has less to do with incest and more to do with any love-hate relationship, particularly where it concerns the sins of a father. Here, the two siblings play out a volatile encounter in a broken-down motel room on the outskirts of a desert, while the ghost of their Old Man observes, recollects, and occasionally interacts. Love, passion, jealousy, betrayal, hatred--these are just a few of the emotions probed by the playwright and vividly brought to life by the cast.

Leading the cast is Susan Davis, who plays May with an intensity and control that would surely make the dramatist proud. Although she appears passive and unresponsive as the play begins, we soon realize that May is instead a caged bobcat--one whose eyes have been narrowly focused on her prey. When May breaks her silence and literally springs into action, she demonstrates a power that seems too great to be contained in Davis' slight frame. An otherwise willowy woman, the actress shows us nothing but sinew and fluid motion--she is all taut muscle and tendon, and she makes not a single superfluous movement. Her focused neurotic energy makes May very believable and very scary.

On the other hand, May's lover/ex-lover/half-brother Eddie is all fidgety, nervous energy with a pseudo-masculine twist. He reminds us of a long-tailed cat on a porch full of rockers. Played very well by Wilson Montgomery, Eddie assumes a toughness that has been brushed on from the outside. With his rifle and his rope tricks, he tries to convey the image of the Marlboro Man, but even though he talks the talk, it's ultimately just that: talk. Eddie doesn't even ride his horse; he pulls it in a trailer behind his truck. Nevertheless, he's just like the Old Man, restless and unable to make a commitment.

The Old Man, we learn, simultaneously shared beds with Eddie's mother and May's mother. This father of convenience, a demanding role since he is onstage throughout the entire drama, is adequately played by Milton Bagby. The Old Man's presence pervades the action, coloring his children's present encounter just as it colored their incestuous relationship from the start. But Bagby's Old Man just doesn't seem like he could have contributed to the couple's gene pool: Both siblings have a strength that simply isn't apparent in their father.

Unhappy couple Susan Davis and Wilson Montgomery in Dharma Road Productions' Fool for Love. Photo by John Lee Montgomery III
May's new boyfriend, Martin, nicely played by Greg Welsch, also lacks the main characters' strength, but for good reason. Is he "a guy or is he a man?" Eddie demands of May. Hedging, May tells him that Martin is adopted. Ultimately, Martin is a simple, unassuming man, unaware of the inferno he has entered. Through several small actions, such as staring into inner space, Welsch perfectly conveys this obtuse, self-deprecating, and somewhat oblivious character, particularly in moments when Martin isn't the center of attention.

The special press staging I attended took place in a two-car garage converted into a rehearsal space--and it went to show just how much limitations can force creativity. The seedy motel room, with its distinct Southwestern flavor, was lit by only four or five 60-watt light bulbs, yet the set still conveyed a sense of heat, distress, and deterioration. As Native American music played in the background and tension permeated the atmosphere, the cast and crew created a terrific environment for such an intimate drama. Director Jim Buglewicz can take a lot of the credit for this generally fine and creative production.

Fool for Love runs at the Darkhorse Theater this Sunday and at MPL Events in Cummins Station next weekend. While Sam Shepard is not everyone's cup of tea, if you want to support this young company, or simply want to be exposed to some fine acting, make plans to attend this searing drama.

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