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Sam Shepard’s play “Fool for Love,” now playing at the Los Alamos Little Theatre, is distinctly not a family show. It contains strong language, violence and content suitable for mature audiences only.
Throughout the course of the show, characters hit, throw, kick, butt, slap, sling, fall, yell, punch, pull, strip, dress, shoot, curse, kiss, booze, burn. Not for the “faint of heart,” the show titillates the gamut of our senses. Such relentless sensory appeal actually drew director Corey New to the show. He thought the script’s fever pitch of action and passion would play well with audiences and make great visual drama. Early 20th century French playwright Antonin Artaud posited similar ideas on what makes captivating and truthful drama. For Artaud, the theater of his time had reached a level of such unquestioned conventionality that he felt it had become untrue to experience. Life does not occur in neat packages of meaning. Rather, life is chaotic, inscrutable, often unpredictable.
To embody truth, Artaud stripped away convention and even inverted traditional notions of how to approximate reality on stage. His theories became known as the “theatre of cruelty,” not because actual acts of brutality are necessarily performed on stage but because viewers are assaulted with raw, new, unexpected approaches to onstage representations of reality and thus shocked out of normal modes of perception and expectation.
Likewise, Shepard casts off theatrical convention in pursuit of what seems to be a more authentic yet paradoxically less traditionally “realistic” presentation. For instance, when the Old Man in the play contends he is married to Barbara Mandrell, protagonist Eddie doesn’t believe him. So the Old Man accuses Eddie of realism. In other words, the Old Man points out that the reason Eddie cannot believe that the Old Man is married to Barbara Mandrell is that Eddie filters the information through the lens of realism.
This life of the mind is what makes all the difference, not only to this play but to all representations of reality. Realism tries to capture reality through excruciating imitation of seemingly objective detail. However, by combining several of subjective points of view, the artist embodies reality more faithfully than the convention-ridden, realism-obsessed Aristotelian, who pursues a single objective reality that lies beyond human apprehension. The play does not present traditional Aristotelian heroes elevated beyond societal norm. Eddie (New) is a past-his-prime rodeo cowboy stuntman who drives around in a truck with his horse trailer clattering behind. May (Suzanne Wilcox) works as a cook and lives in the cheap motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert.
The Old Man (played by Larry Gibbons), a well past-his-prime cowboy, sways back and forth almost maniacally in a well-worn rocking chair perched eerily on the edge of the stage half-shrouded in darkness. Martin (Todd Graves), who arrives to take May out to the movies, has just completed the “auspicious” task of mowing the high school football field — a likely occupation for a yard man, who prefers to be on his hands and knees weeding and edging lawns. And the characters speak with dialect, grammatical error and at times even crude language. Some may argue that Shepard’s compact drama actually conserves time and space. However, the Old Man’s omnipresence subverts any such argument. Although long gone literally from Eddie’s and May’s families, the Old Man is the only character who actually remains on stage the entire time.
The play’s characters violate traditional narrative mode. Rather than tell a story from start to finish, Shepard’s characters present reality as if through a shifting kaleidoscope. Each of the play’s three main characters tells the story of the shared family, but each naturally tells it from his/her own perspective, which amplifies some details and diminishes or even deletes others.