In a motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert sits Eddie. May kneels at the bed, distraught.
Such is the introductory snapshot of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, a single act drama of shifting truths and feelings.
What has just occurred, we don’t know, though there’s a suggestion of post-coital angst in the air. What becomes apparent is that Eddie (played here by Lachlan Ruffy), has recently arrived, having driven clear across the country, and that he’s determined to reignite their relationship.
May (Kate Betcher), meanwhile, is expecting a visitor.
But wait, there’s more: Eddie and May are half-siblings, and Eddie – a rodeo stuntman – is being stalked by a vengeful “countess” in a black Mercedes.
Observing all this from outside the frame is May and Eddie’s father, a ghost-choric figure who likes to think he’s married to country music legend Barbara Mandrell.
Typically, we’ve come to expect that actors will go deep in Shepard, that they will tear themselves (and each other) to shreds. Not so here. Julie Baz’s production is a gentle one. Her actors stick to the shallows. Sexual tension and volcanic emotion is pretty much absent and the push me-pull you antics of Eddie and May’s relationship lacks vehemence and a sense of desperation. That said, the lightness of the treatment does create some space for humour.
Ruffy strikes as too soft a type to play a Shepardian male lead and no amount of man-spreading can convince us he’s the genuine Western article. He’s not much helped by costuming choices that are more Toy Story’s Sheriff Woody than bronco-bustin’ Malboro Man. And Eddie’s gun stays chastely in a bag, possibly because this production can’t stretch to showing something real enough.
Betcher, likewise, strikes as too unbruised a fruit to play May. Shepard’s script calls for a “tough drabness” in her character, which is something this bright-eyed ingénue has yet to find.
Joel Horwood is right on the money as May’s date Martin, a non-too-smart local struggling to comprehend what on earth he’s just walked in on. Neil McLeod is appropriately ‘ornery as The Old Man
Rather than create a $10 motel room ambience, David Jeffrey opts for an antique bed in a space fenced all around with wooden posts and slats. It’s an attempt to make the cowboy mythic aspect of the play more visible, I guess, but it lends the unhelpful look of a sheep pen to a production that doesn’t dig hard enough or deep enough into the world Shepard so eloquently describes.