Lesli Brownlee and Alex Rose in the ABB Collective production of Fool For Love.
Lesli Brownlee and Alex Rose in the ABB Collective production of Fool For Love.

There is something a little surreal about watching Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love on Valentine’s Day. If anything, it is a good reminder that any problems you think you have in your real-world relationships are probably insignificant.

Set in a rundown motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, Fool for Love is the story of May and Eddie, a couple with a long and turbulent history together, and a deep dark secret.

Currently playing at The Shop Theatre in East Vancouver, the rustic nature of this black box theatre seems suited to Shepard’s grimy play. Unfortunately, it is also one of this production’s downfalls, as Jenn Stewart’s set feels far too expansive for a play about confinement.

Seedy, perhaps, but the claustrophobia is missing. Like the illusion of heat from the desert, which is also disappointingly absent, we should feel Shepard’s characters’ desperate need for air.

The use of cloth to represent the motel room walls is an interesting choice, working as a metaphor for the world just beyond the walls and lives of these characters. And while it also speaks to the idea that things are not as they appear in Fool for Love, there is also an inherent flimsiness, which is problematic as doors (and bodies) are slammed at every opportunity.

Matthew MacDonald-Bain’s sound design is visceral, especially as the action moves from the motel room to the unseen parking lot. Unfortunately, Jillian White’s special lighting effects through the window were diminished as the crew responsible for this little piece of stage magic were revealed.

Fool for Love is one of those plays actors relish, designed to showcase their abilities. While this cast is mostly up to the task in this production, it is perhaps surprising that the most real character on stage is the one residing inside May and Eddie’s heads.

Known simply as “Old Man”, Duncan Fraser gives the best performance of the night that is superbly natural; no small feat for a character manifested by two other characters. As revelations are exposed, Fraser interjects with a sometimes-quiet intensity, with a slight slur from the pulls he takes from the bottle contained in the brown paper bag at his feet.

As May and Eddie, Lesli Brownlee and Alex Rose gradually feel more comfortable as the show progressed, but at just 70 minutes, it is essential to nail it from the start. Often their connection felt artificial, making it tough to buy into a relationship that should produce as much heat as the desert just outside their doors. And while May and Eddie may be larger-than-life, more successful productions have embraced both the rage and the silence, allowing a more satisfying build to the play’s fiery climax.

As May’s uncertain new suitor, Mike Gill is suitably hesitant. There are moments, however, as with Brownlee and Rose, which didn’t always ring true.

With the playwright’s recent death cited as the impetus for this production – Brownlee reportedly sought the rights to the play immediately following his death last year – like other plays of its kind (I’m looking at you, LaBute and Letts), Fool for Love largely becomes an actor’s exercise.

Fool for Love by Sam Shepard. Directed by Jamie King. On stage at The Shop Theatre (3030 East Broadway, Vancouver) until February 24. Visit https://abbcollective.wixsite.com for tickets and information.

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