You didn’t have to see Sam Shepard’s last play, A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations), to know his theatrical roots stretch back to the Greeks. Fool for Love, which first opened in 1983, unfolds as two half-siblings, Eddie (Sam Rockwell) and May (Nina Arianda), spend seventy-five minutes in a motel trying to break an attraction that has plagued them for fifteen years. “We’ll always be connected,” he tells her. “That was decided a long time ago.” Lear said that the gods kill us for sport, but Mr. Shepard counters that inexplicably falling in love may be worse. This classical fatalism, as indicated by the title, is given a country-and-western twang—indeed, “Fool for Love” could be a song by Hank Williams.
Now, Mr. Rockwell and Ms. Arianda are both first-rate actors. And the director, Daniel Aukin, responsible for great, recent productions like Placebo and Bad Jews, is no lightweight himself. But there is something immediately wrong with this revival. Fool for Love opens with the following stage direction: “This play is to be performed relentlessly without a break.” This uninterrupted, fevered pace is tonally essential; the audience should, like the characters, be dizzied, emotional, overwhelmed. In other words: they are the ones slamming tequila, but we should feel drunk nonetheless. If we have time to relax, we have time to take the Olympian view of things; and once we begin seeing Eddie and May “as flies to wanton boys” rather than as fellow human beings, our investment in the action plummets.
Here, Mr. Rockwell and Ms. Arianda are far too casual with each other. Though Mr. Rockwell has a nice swagger, hitching his fingers into his belt loops, his body never suggests a magnet spiraling two thousand four hundred eighty miles across the country towards its unfortunate mate. And when May says to Eddie, “You’re like a disease to me,” the signs of degeneration are simply not there. Without a physicality and a velocity to substantiate the words, the text is drained of meaning. That tequila, it turns out, is really just lukewarm water.