Fool For Love – Freedom from the father (Theatre Review)

Fool for Love

Patina Productions

Limelight on Oxford 2-12 January

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Clare Hawley

Locating Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love in time and psychological context is a complex matter. The themes of Fool For Love and others in his Family Quintet are universal: the outer landscapes imposition upon the inner world; the disconnected alienated father; the justifications of love. Written when psychology was undergoing a backlash against paternal criticisms and focused on the damage a mother could do to her children, Sam Shepard‘s well-meaning father stands out as a destructive force driving burdensome pointless self-reflection in his children. Should any child have to spend years rationalising such a destructive passionate love? How does Eddie be a man considering his fathers’ behaviours? Does the love his father has for him and his sister erase the problems he has placed at their door?

Director Julie Baz has her actors perform the famous inner volcanoes of Fool For Love’s hapless protagonists with disarming verisimilitude. Sublimated and real, Julie Baz encourages a resignation in each performance that cuts against Americanised Cowboy Drama. Refusing a “Bigger-than-Ben-Hur” hysteria her interpretaion works within space, time and context. None of the self-consciousness disease that inflicts Australians when they take on major American or British work exists here. A display of artistic courage occurs when Julie Baz locks May and Eddie in The Limelight Room and causes their Being in an indie setting. The audience senses a comical nod to the American overstatement when the production opens with May clinging to Eddie’s leg. This overblown dramatising falls by the wayside as the production progresses in a rush of the Real. More Australian gothic than American Horror Story, Fool For Love becomes recognisable as a product of our own small town dramas – something one feels confident (hopes?) the 1983 Sam Shepard would have loved. This production of Fool For Love posits two diverse cultures with an emphasis on difference rather than similarities. When Eddie drags a clinging May across the stage at the play’s opening, we can’t help think of Australian theatre clinging to the overconfident spread legs of American Pulitzer winners and nominees. Should Australian’s rethink our cultural relationship to our American brother condemned to pursue us in the light of abuses inflicted from Father England?

The ragged, jaded traditional character performance of classic productions is cast by the way when Julie Baz choses a youthful cast. This gives the conflict a sense of freshness as if the doomed lovers are at the start of this arduous emotional journey. When directing Fool For Love in 2019 this decision makes sense. One presumes modern psychological developments would help prevent the inevitable horror Fool For Love evokes in its primary characters. When performing an Eddie on the Edge, Lachlan Ruffy, his translucent masculinity fragile, evokes the post 9/11-GFC vulnerability in the gun-totin’ American Cowboy. This new look Eddie is overwhelmed by the size and ferocity of the problems at his door with his self-destruct mechanism dwelling below a shallow surface. A newer deconstructed modernity allows Lachlan Ruffy to make his Cowboy look like a historic version of the online avatar, with his gun more a promise of trouble rather than a tool to wield it. The power of Fool For Love lies in its pacing, and Julie Baz allows lengthy exchanges between Lachlan Ruffy’s Eddie and Joel Horwood’s Martin to reveal power shifts that will delight the acute observer. Two young men struggling with masculinity, spectre of The Woman to one side and The Father to the other, provide a highlight of recognisable emotional conflict. Delightful to witness in these scenes is Joel Horwood’s Martin’s slow revelations.

A standout in this production is Kate Betcher’s character analysis. A modern interpretation of May, it is through her performance themes meld into the contemporary. The “beaten-down-by-life” misery so important to depict in the 80s has been replaced by a smouldering rage that one presumes will propel her to action. Her date Martin is just a date, he does not occur as her life raft – she’ll work that one out for herself thank you very much. If Eddie looks lost, it is in May we sense any hope for the pair survives. Julie Baz’s choice to cast younger protagonists injects Fool For Love with hope, despite the enormity of the troubles inflicted by the father. Neil McLeod’s Old Man ghost-walk occurs as a thing of the past. May’s modernisms and The Old Man’s bygone era play themselves out on the bodies of the young men, particularly Eddie, who sits on the precipice of manhood. Amid the sublimation of the great American Cowboy, the young man and woman attempt to forge a path forward, burdened by the sins of the fathers, while seeking Existential Being rather than eking out a miserable existence determined in utero.

Dave Jeffrey’s set builds an emotional maze, transparent yet binding, inside the evocative space of The Limelight Room. Perspective senses the set is small and large. Expanse of the desert abandoned for claustrophobia of the corral, yet ever pervasive is the sand that clings – even to the bedposts. Like the costumes, the set speaks to the avatar nature of the Cowboy aesthetic, and the plastered over strangeness of the hyper-masculine. In the hands of Dave Jeffrey and Julie Baz the stylised nature of over-emphasised masculinity occurs as fragile yet pervasive, like the sand itself. That blokiness is transparent and ridiculous, but it can destroy on a whim.

Fool For Love is another intellectually provocative production in The Limelight Room, this exciting new Sydney venue. It will disappoint those seeking polish and a cow-tow to the 80s aesthetic, but enliven those interested in American drama’s role on Australian stages. The relevance an American play written in the 80s has for contemporary Sydney audiences can be a contentious subject and this production of a Fool For Love will provide a bracing engagement with the original text that informs debate. Julie Baz and Dave Jeffrey have a keen eye inside independent theatre and bring an important avant-outsider perspective to a Sydney theatre scene all too precious about its international creative connections. The courage, ambition and experience of this production shows us what indie theatre in Sydney should be all about.