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LALT to show tough love

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By Jennifer Wadsack

Sam Shepard’s play “Fool for Love” kicks off the Los Alamos Little Theatre’s 2009-2010 theatrical season, which has been dedicated to the loving memory of John Mench, a founding member of LALT who passed away recently.

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LALT veteran Corey New directs “Fool for Love,” while former LALT president Jennifer Wadsack produces it.  

Although “Fool for Love” is set contemporarily on the edge of the Mojave Desert, it plays more like a Greek tragedy come to life out of hazy remnants from the Wild West.  

In Greek drama when proper familial relations are not observed, fate intervenes and tragedy ensues. For instance, to defy prophecy, Jocasta of Greek myth gives up her son Oedipus, who ends up finding his own mother anyway and unknowingly marrying her.  Neither family nor fate can be subverted.

Similarly, in “Fool for Love,” past-his-prime rodeo cowboy Eddie (New) and sometime girlfriend May (LALT newcomer Suzanne Wilcox) are the modern product of family subversion, initiated by the Old Man (Larry Gibbons) who boozes and broods over the entire play from a surreal rocking chair at the edge of the stage — much like a Greek chorus observing, commenting, portending and critiquing stage events as they unfold or enfold, as the case may be.

Eddie has just driven his tin horse trailer “2,480 miles” to “rescue” May.  

But May has made a new life for herself away from Eddie.  She works as a cook, lives in a seedy motel, and has sworn off both alcohol and Eddie.  She even awaits a date to the movies with simple and well-intentioned yardman Martin (Todd Graves), who is as much of a foil to Eddie as one can imagine.

However, Eddie and May have been together since high school. They can neither stay together nor stay apart. They seem locked in a hopelessly repeating pattern of attraction and revulsion, like two perverse magnets whose poles are inevitably destined to attract one moment and repel the next.

Like Tantalus whose familial repudiation incited the curse of the House of Atreus, the Old Man perverts family by marrying one woman and having a family with her but surreptitiously having another woman and family at the same time.  

Descendants of this modern “Atreid” line, Eddie and May can no more avoid each other than aforementioned Oedipus and Jocasta can.  

And from this central duplicity at the inception of both families, the play’s dichotomies are born, as are the play’s robust characterizations and visceral choreographies.

Eddie slams doors, throws punches, throws May, kisses May, walks outs, walks in, walks out, walks in – in the room, in the play, in life.  May initially wears a dowdy denim skirt and trailer-trash-tied T-shirt  – all the while smoldering underneath with black lingerie both to taunt and tantalize Eddie.  She slams doors, struggles, kicks, slaps, kisses, runs in, runs out.  

The dichotomous irreconcilable dialectic emerges.

The attraction-revulsion cycle that Eddie and May enact perhaps echoes the one that drove the Old Man to multiple women and families—a cycle that Eddie and May may have learned from nature or nurture or both. Whether it be family or fate that destines these two fools to their love, there it seems they will remain – despite cognition, opportunity and even catastrophe.  

If they cannot be family in one way, they will be it in another.

The series of events that led to the current state is recounted hypnotically in turn each by Eddie, May and the Old Man.

Though the stories are about the same three characters during the same time period, each recounting differs as much as does each of the stories in the classic movie “Rashomon.”  Revelation becomes complication, and the viewer is left to sift through the details in much the same way a kaleidoscope shifts images with every twist and turn.  

In the words of Eddie himself, ‘‘there’s not a movie in this town that can match the story I can tell.’’

By day, New makes “people’s computer problems go away.”  But like Shepard himself, Corey also writes, acts and directs.  

LALT audiences will recall New as the tea-sipping, crumpet-eating Algernon Moncrieff in May 2008’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”  But New began his LALT career by directing “The Balcony Scene” (2000) and “Barefoot in the Park” (2001).  New has even directed his own plays for the Little Theatre: “Dweller in the Ravine: A Love Story” and “My Better Half” (both 2003).  

In addition to his current directorial pursuits, New is busy at work on a screenplay.   

Sam Shepard directed the 1983 premiere of his “Fool for Love,” which debuted in San Francisco and then moved to a 1,000-performance run off-Broadway at the Circle Repertory. Ed Harris won an Obie for his role as Eddie, and Bruce Willis later took over the role.

Of course, filmgoers may know Shepard better as Chuck Yeager in “The Right Stuff,” Spud Jones in “Steel Magnolias,” Frank James in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” or even Eddie in Robert Altman’s film version of “Fool for Love.”  

Los Alamos residents may have even caught sight of Sam Shepard in town during the December 2007 filming of “Brothers.”

The movie was filmed at UNM-LA, the United Church, the skating rink and Barranca Mesa.  

Shepard, along with Mare Winningham, one of the film’s co-stars, treated Los Alamos extras to a spontaneously harmonized a cappella version of “Amazing Grace” during on-set down time.  Of course, impromptu musical outbreaks from the former drummer of the 1960s Holy Modal Rounders should not surprise anyone.  

In fact, if you’ve seen “Easy Rider,” you’ve heard Shepard drumming as a Rounder.

However, Shepard actually considers himself first and foremost a writer – and with good reason.

By the age of 30, he had already written 30 plays that had been produced in New York City.  

And his career only took off from there, as he authored such acclaimed plays as “True West,” “A Lie of the Mind” and “Simpatico.”

Of course, he has also written for film: Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point,” Wim Wenders’s “Paris, Texas, and Don’t Come Knocking,” to name a few.  

His scripts have been nominated for Tony Awards, and his 1979 play “Buried Child” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  

With such associations as Jessica Lange, O-lan Jones and Patti Smith, Shepard is no stranger to family dysfunction and romantic entanglement, which provide the basis of “Fool for Love.”  Needless to say, despite its title, “Fool for Love” is no sentimental romance, nor is it a family show.

It is a gritty, kinetic deconstruction of shared reality, and comes complete with strong language, mature themes and gunfire.

The show runs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sept. 18, 19, 25, and 26. There will be a matinee at 2 p.m. Sept. 20. All shows will be at the Los Alamos Little Theatre at the Performing Arts Center, 1670 Nectar St.

Tickets are on sale at C.B. Fox and available at the door: $12/general admission and $10/students and seniors.

Questions may be directed to New at filmzealot@ymail.com or producer Jennifer Wadsack at 412-7035.