Sam Shepard like a bad boyfriend in Fool for Love

Picture this: The play starts with May (Jamie Konchak) wrapping her arms around the legs of her rodeo cowboy-stuntman-estranged boyfriend Eddie (David MacInnis) to cling onto him, and – within minutes – she plants her knee square in his nuts to push him away. This opening seems to be the thesis statement of not only Fool For Love, but for a lot of Sam Shepard’s work.

How can we be sure Shepard didn’t mean Fool in Love?

Director John Hudson and Shadow Theatre return to the material after first producing it at the Edmonton Fringe some 20 years previously, presenting the play at the Varscona Theatre through March 4. Returning too is Shaun Johnston (CBC’s Heartland). Back then Johnston played the role of Eddie. Now he plays The Old Man. He sits quietly, out of the light, every once in a while, piping up in a strong southern drawl to provide some ominous back story. Just picture Sam Elliot in The Big Lebowski, make him more sinister and give him a Styrofoam cup, which we’re not sure if he’ll drink from or spit tobacco juice in, and you have The Old Man in a nutshell.

Hudson and company have a love for Shepard which I do not share. It’s like hearing a woman blather on about how good her new boyfriend is, and all the while you’re watching him changing the oil in his Harley on her antique Persian rugs and using her yapping show-dog poodle on which to wipe his greasy hands. I just don’t see the attraction.

At least Shepard’s plays are loaded with conflict, which is the crux of all drama. He does keep the audience at ill ease. At one point, Eddie brings a shotgun on stage, and we all know the rule about bringing guns on stage. Then there’s a guy in a Cadillac who circles the trailer and puts a round into it every once in a while.

Somehow Shepard manages to confuse conflict with a fey, unmotivated abrasiveness. Like in other of Shepard’s plays (True West comes immediately to mind) company’s coming and the plea is put out to the abrasive one to be on his best behaviour. Of course, the abrasive one uses this as an order to do the exact opposite. And, of course, the in-bred obnoxiousness is piled on so thick by this point, the entrance of said guest – Martin, May’s oblivious new suitor (played by Kevin Rothery) – is a welcome litotes to the narrative. Then comes the back story of the quasi-incestuous relationship – and we don’t want to give too much away here.

If you prefer the splaying of white trash dysfunction to be somewhere between Tennessee Williams and John Waters, then you might recommend Fool For Love. If you love the work of Shepard in general, then come by and get some more. At least something happens on stage. Educated theatre people have gushed about productions where absolutely nothing happens (Black Rider, anyone?). At least Fool For Love doesn’t belabour its point and has the decency to end with a running time just over an hour. At this point, it doesn’t matter that the ending was more than just a tad anti-climatic, given all that setup. To continue being positive, Dave Clark’s Dobro slide guitar score augments the sinister notes of the story, and Terry Gunvordahl’s set and lights give Fool For Love a nice film noir look.

As far as boyfriends go, Shadow Theatre, you could do a lot better than Sam Shepard. Oh, sure, he does have that Pulitzer Prize, but then again, he co-wrote Antonioni’s pretentious bore-fest Zabriskie Point, so maybe he should give it back.