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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: Fool For Love finds the heat in its performances

Of course there is lots of shouting and slamming of doors in the Clockwork Theatre production of Fool For Love – it is Sam Shepard after all – but it is those moments in-between where this production really sings.  Buoyed by actors unafraid of a pause, this inaugural production bodes well for this fledgling Vancouver indie theatre company.

Considered by some to be part of a quintet of plays, Fool For Love is quintessentially Shepard, exploring the underbelly of family and relationships.  Set in a rundown motel in the Mojave Desert, it follows the story of May and Eddie, a couple with an obviously long and turbulent history together. This a love-hate relationship that is so relentlessly filled with attraction and repulsion that is at times dizzying to witness. Turning on a dime, their relationship becomes a microcosm of the best and worst of relationships in its 70 quick minutes. That the two also have a darker connection only adds to the play’s exhausting nature, for both actor and audience.

An actor’s wet dream, Fool For Love is one of those plays that they love to sink their teeth into. Filled with an endless intensity, it is just as much a challenge for the actors as it is for the audience.  To make it work though, requires actors up to the task. Fortunately director Becky MacDormand found it in this small cast.

Joel Butler and Kaitlin Williams, as the two on-again-off-again lovers with dark centres, are perfectly matched mismatched.

A master of the pause, Butler is particularly good here as he simmers, never rushing a constrained performance that wonderfully contrasts the unyielding nature of their violent interactions, mostly of the emotional kind. Newly returned to Vancouver stages, Butler is definitely one to keep an eye on. Williams in contrast is the louder of the two, turning on a dime telling Eddie she no longer loves him in one breath, and professing her unending desire for him to be in her life in the next. There is a chemistry between the two that is fully realized.

Watching the action from the sidelines is Steve James as The Old Man, the mystical embodiment of Eddie’s father, who interjects himself into the conversation from time-to-time and then just as quickly disappears. As the interloper, Patrick Dodd has the unenviable task of finding himself trapped between Eddie and May. A big guy, Dodd lumbers his way through his role of Martin with a twinge of simplicity that will remind you of Lennie in Of Mice and Men. There is a delicious irony in the contrast between Butler’s slight build and Dodd’s bulk.

Phil Miguel’s simple set, complete with the requisite peeling wallpaper, works well inside the tiny Havana Theatre space. His lighting design combined with the sound from CJ McGillivray work well together, especially in the couple of scenes where the action happens, unseen, in the motel parking lot.

For all of its successes though, Fool For Love at times feels more like an exercise for its actors than it is intended for an audience. While no fault of this particular production, as Shepard can be an acquired taste, despite its distilled exploration of human nature it may very well leave you feeling cold, despite the desert heat.

A solid first show, buoyed by its performances, we will be watching with interest to see in what direction Clockwork Theatre heads as it announces the rest of its season this summer.

Fool For Love by Sam Shepard. Directed by Becky MacDormand. A Clockwork Theatre production. On stage at the Havana Theatre (1212 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until May 16. Visit for tickets and information.

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