Adam Rothenberg’s London stage debut is every bit as bloody as his role in Ripper Street only, in the visceral Fool For Love, which opened last night at Found111, it is he who spills his guts trying to save a doomed relationship.
Sam Shepard’s play, set in the American wilderness of the Mojave Desert, is emotionally and physically raw, an intense, tortuous confrontation between two people, connected by blood, who can’t live with each other and can’t live apart.
Fool For Love is the last production to be staged by Emily Dobbs in the old Saint Martin’s School of Art, in Charing Cross Road, before the building is redeveloped.
And her pop-up theatre has thrilled the capital with a quartet of plays that have explored a common theme, in their own way, of love – lost, found, messy, complicated and damned.
It hasn’t been an easy space to work in. Awkward angles and central pillar in the L-shaped room has made sight-lines difficult for some of the audience. The theatre is hot and airless and its hard, uncompromising, seats have been a rag-tag jumble of cast-offs that have probably been purchased from some junk shop.
Yet the work has been exceptional. The Dazzle, Bug, Unfaithful, and now Fool For Love, have attracted star billing and public and critical acclaim, sell-outs one and all.
Fool For Love is an outstanding finale to the year-long season. Through 70 minutes, holed up in a seedy motel room, we watch as trailer-park cowpoke, Eddie, tries to rekindle his complex, tempestuous association with the vulnerable May.
We’re in typical Shepard country, watching two emotionally exhausted people from America’s underbelly, attempt to extricate themselves from a fractured relationship. It’s an emotional powder-keg that frequently explodes into violence.
Eddie has the rolling gait and slouched walk of a confirmed cowboy. He wears a sweat-stained Stetson, spurs, check shirt and jeans. Hell, he even has a lasso and a truck.
Here’s an unstructured Marlboro’ Man who talks with his fists, or a shotgun, swills tequila and mouths off, grabbing May and pleading for forgiveness.
She, frail, tired, a life of too much booze and broken promises, wants out – for good – but does she have the strength to make a fresh start – especially when they share a special, unbreakable bond?
She thinks she has escaped, hiding out in this faraway motel, waiting for Martin, a nice but dim handyman to turn up and take her out. But, yet again, Eddie has tracked her down for one more confrontation.
Watching the pair trawl over the dying embers of their relationship is Joe McGann’s very credible world-weary cowboy. He’s the ‘Old Man’ who once shared their lives and now haunts Eddie as a father figure he never really got to know. Like father, like son eh?
Rothenberg’s hot-headed, wisecracking Eddie, wears his heart on his sleeve. There’s nothing complicated. He first saw May when they were both teens and his father was visiting her mother. they have been unable to get away from each other ever since.
It’s a captivating and confidence performance from the actor. His scenes with the naive Martin are skilfully adept. One minute the pair are brawling and the next discussing movie choices and relationships. They’re funny, intense and ultimately, as both May and Eddie explain their history together, rather moving.
Lydia Wilson as the feisty May is manhandled a lot (and has a few bruises to show for it) by Rothenberg in this very physical play but admirably acquits herself as a trashy gal from the wrong side of town who falls for the wrong boy.
And, although the action centres very much on the verbal sparring between the lovers, there is room for two excellent support performances from a brooding Joe McGann, his Liverpool accent well buried and replaced with the drawl of the American west, and Luke Neal as Martin.
The Old Man gives nothing away for quite some time. He sits, head buried, listening and watching the pair argue, and slowly he gives away more of himself. He’s no hero dad, just another drifter, who strung along two women and ultimately walked out on both.
Director Simon Evans is a bit too arty for me with his fluorescent lights that flicker every time a door is shut (and, talking of doors, I’m not sure how long the fragile set will survive if Rothenberg continues to ferociously slam them like he does), the rather sinister music used to create tension and, inexplicably, covering the floor with what appeared to be very un-desert-like coal-dust.
Yet Fool For Love is a fitting finale to a year of fine work at Found111. Get tickets while you can. It’s sure to be another sell-out.
Fool For Love runs at Found111 until December 17.
Fool For Love
Adam Rothenberg & Lydia Wilson are outstanding as a couple tortured by overpowering love in Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love.