Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic
To have the opportunity to spend a hot summer evening watching the depletion of raw human emotions onstage might not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ so to speak; however, I chose to go that extra mile and see where it would take me. I had traveled this same road before in 1994 where I saw a local community theatre production of ‘Fool for Love’. Would I feel the same way about the play now as I did then?
Soulpepper’s opening night performance oozed on the stage of the Michael Young Theatre with a painful rawness of a gashed open wound that hasn’t properly healed over time. It is the Mohave Desert on a very warm night in a “stark, low-rent motel room on the edge [of the desert]” where we meet lovers May (Cara Gee) and Eddie (Eion Bailey) who have had a checkered past about them. Eddie has arrived at the motel room to try once again in his re-connection with May who wants nothing to do with him at any cost. May accuses Eddie of having an affair with an unseen woman only known as the Countess. May is also waiting for the arrival of Martin (Alex McCooeye) who wants to take her out to the movies. Outside the motel room, The Old Man (Stuart Hughes) silently yet carefully watches these events unfold before him and periodically offers his view.
It is indeed a very stark, cold and lifeless motel room in dire need of a paint job thanks to designers Lorenzo Savoini and Simon Rossiter’s keen eye to details. There is a bed on casters centre stage with two pillows slightly askew. An old radio is found on the floor stage left. Far stage right is the remnant of a partial bathroom in view chock full of clothes and varied personal sundries with the door slightly closed, a chair and a standing lamp. The back wall of the bricked room looks as if there are mold stains on the wall from my seat in the house. Andrew Penner’s preshow country and western sad song lamentations loudly emanate throughout the auditorium. Throughout the performance Mr. Penner’s sound designs are of the utmost importance.
Truth be told, this 36-year-old script now appears as if it doesn’t have the same electric punch and jab it once had. That is not to say the performances are lacking because these four actors are top notch. I’ll come back to their work shortly.
In 1983, the language of the play would have probably shocked many audiences of the time because it would have been unheard of to use it in our everyday conversations. Now, thanks to the current President of the United States’ use of the ‘p word’ (horrible word), it appears as if this kind of language is becoming the norm and acceptable to use especially if an American public is willing to forgive and overlook an elected official its usage in whatever context he wishes. Additionally, because Shephard’s play digs deeply into the heart, soul and psyche of the individual, there are times where emotions and voices soar at great heights sometimes to a disturbing effect. Yelling and raising voices to drown out others seems to be the norm today for so many things on the political and social field.
Director Frank Cox-O’Connell has smoothly molded a riveting story of sordid, visceral individuals who, for some reason, cannot break the cycle and destructive loop of these lovers who can still carry on despite their traumatic past and emotional misfires. It appears that May and Eddie’s past relationship has been a rough and violent one but why they keep returning to each other is a mystery that is resolved at the play’s conclusion.
As rough cowboy Eddie, Eion Bailey uses his tall, lanky, handsome physique to his advantage in trying to win May again and again. Mr. Bailey makes a wise choice in selecting when to build and construct those moments of tender compassion one minute with a sudden animal surge of rage the next. Whenever Bailey raises his voice in anger or frustration, there is a dire sense that he could lash out and kill at that moment.
Cara Gee, too, in her performance as May powerfully reveals that animalistic tendency which exists in each of us when we are pushed to the limit for survival. As Ms. Gee points out in her Artist’s Note in the programme, “May rails against the harm inflicted on her by the men in her life. She rails against playing the good, stoic and sexually available, but she loves, hopes and dreams and is a person.” Nevertheless, in those moments where she rails, her yelling and shouting became just a tad bothersome to my ears and to my guest’s ears as well.
As The Old Man, Stuart Hughes’ brooding presence adds mystery in those moments where he remains silent and simply watches the action unfold in front of him. Thankfully, he relieves some of the tension and provides a bit of humour. One point occurs when Eddie pours tequila for himself and Martin, and The Old Man reaches his glass out for a drink too. Mr. Hughes’ presence and individual conversations with Eddie and May are cryptic but pay careful attention to events when the mystery becomes unraveled.
Alex McCooeye’s unsuspecting Martin is the one for whom we should feel the greatest empathy. Martin is completely oblivious to these events and Mr. McCooeye has instinctively zeroed in on those emotions of initial puzzlement before realizing the effect of this bucking rodeo ride he is on. Martin fights like hell trying to stay on something that is about to throw him right off his saddle. Personally, it is Martin for him I feel the most empathy as he has no idea what he has walked into in this motel room.
Final Comments: A friend emailed me some information I found interesting. In John Winters’ biography, Shepard is quoted as saying that ‘Fool for Love’ did not age well: “It’s still not satisfying. I don’t think the play really found itself.” Point blank comment by Mr. Shephard but something rather interesting to consider.
I still enjoyed the theatrical presentation of this ‘Fool for Love’ regardless of the aging script. It’s worth a look.
‘Fool for Love’ runs to August 11 at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District. For tickets visit www.soulpepper.ca or call 1-416-866-8666.
Approximate running time of 1 hour and 25 minutes with no interval.
Photo of Cara Gee and Eion Bailey by Dahlia Katz.
The Cast: Eion Bailey, Cara Gee, Stuart Hughes, Alex McCooeye
Director: Frank Cox-O’Connell; Set Designer: Lorenzo Savoini; Costume Designer: Shannon Lea Doyle; Lighting Designer: Simon Rossiter; Composer & Sound Designer: Andre Penner; Stage Manager: Kate Sandeson;