Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Fool for Love
Fool for Love is an elliptical and atmospheric play. Like much of Shepard's work, it has one foot in the gritty, dirty real world and the other somewhere in the ether. Any successful production must project this duality. In his stage directions, Shepard notes that the play "is to be performed relentlessly, without a break." Once Eddie (here played by Matthew Seely) and May (Olivia Nice) hit the stage, the ensuing hour should feel breathless. Ude's production achieves this; the audience is in tune with the desperate, destructive love these characters project.
Much of the play's forward motion comes from the cat-and-mouse game of Eddie and May's relationship. They constantly try to stay one step ahead of each other, and of the audience, not revealing anything more than what's absolutely necessary. Seely and Nice excel at this deception. Both performances are well-crafted, if bogged down slightly by imperfections. Seely's Eddie seems too mannered at first, although he finds his groove when he lets loose with his character's spellbinding monologue. Eddie's famous roping scene also fails to feel as virtuosic as it should. Nice sometimes rushes her lines, although that could be seen as a way to highlight May's desperation. Yet despite these deficits, their performances together are greater than the sum of their parts.
The two supporting roles are well cast. Jake McCready is haunting as the spectral Old Man, who stalks the periphery of the stage, interjecting himself when he finds it necessary. He is a narrator intent on seeing that the story Eddie and May are telling reflects what he wants told. Connor McElwee is endearing as Martin, the yokel May has set her sights on, who has no idea what he's in for. These roles (especially Martin) can seem unnecessary when weakly cast; both McCready and McElwee see to it that the audience understands their importance.
Jeffrey Van Velsor's rundown motel set perfectly captures the perilous landscape on which this frantic drama plays out, and Keating Helfrich's costumes are pitch perfect. (The cheap velour dress May wears in this production is actually more accurate and appropriate than the slinky, stylish frock Nina Arianda wore in the Broadway revival). Alex Mannix's lighting design is eerie and evocative. I commend Princeton Summer Theater for taking a risk with Fool for Love, and for pulling it off so well.
Fool for Love continues through Sunday, August 13, 2016, at Hamilton Murray Theater (Murray-Dodge Hall, on the Princeton University campus). Advanced tickets ($29.50; students and matinees, $24.50) can be purchased online at www.princetonsummertheater.org or by phone at 732-997-0205. Day-of tickets can be purchased at the box office, which opens 90 minutes prior to each performance.