Directed by Daniel Aukin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Manhattan Theatre Club rolls out a kinder, gentle, more cerebral “Fool for Love” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre with bruises more internal and spiritual than external and physical. Self-discovery on a dualistic battlefield is, after all, more cerebral though the wounds no less severe and long-lasting. True seekers often wrestle with demons in the desert and it is in a somewhat seedy motel room near the Mojave Desert that half-siblings Eddie (Sam Rockwell) and May (Nina Arianda) battle with the specters of demons that have haunted them since they met as children outside May’s mother’s home and realized they had the same father and different mothers.
Those demon memories are allegorized by the presence of the Old Man (Gordon Joseph Weiss) who remains in a chair stage left in the shadows throughout the play and occasionally, like Zoltar, comes out of the shadows and comments on the action on stage – even sometimes sharing a drink with Eddie and holding a brief conversation with him. The conversation is ontological and focuses on what is real and what is not. After asking Eddie if he sees a picture on the wall and Eddie concurs that he does, the Old Man affirms “Well, see, now that’s the difference right there. That’s realism. I am actually married to Barbara Mandrell in my mind. Can you understand that?”
The rest of the Old Man’s spin on realism is that – as Eddie and May fight on stage – the love he had for their mothers was “the same love. Just got split in two, that’s all.” It is this bifurcated love – and perhaps the bifurcated selves of the siblings – that is at the center of their struggle with one another and with self. In some way, they are two halves of one being – whether that is a male/female split inherent in every human being or a metaphorical split in identity/psyche that needs some kind of resolution before Eddie and May can move on.
Under Daniel Aukin’s slightly revisionist but extraordinarily meticulous direction, Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda capture the angst and desperation of their characters and bring their struggle to separate and individuate to a cathartic frenzy that make a deep and lasting impression on the audience. Issues of unrequited love and identity are common themes that raise familiar enduring questions about personality development, the function of memory, and the nature of truth. After facing her demons, May finally affirms, “I’ll believe the truth! It’s less confusing.”
Memory is a fickle partner in crime – even the crime of self-delusion or self-destruction – and the unreliability of memory is allegorized by the Old Man’s lack of certainty about the events that transpired (whether or not the figure is the father of Eddie and May). Ultimately, everyone has to submit themselves to a trial similar to the events in the seedy motel at the edge of the Mojave Desert in their own “smoke lodges” at the edges of their own personal deserts. “Fool for Love” is a must see.