fool for love
Sam Shepard’s rough and tumble play Fool For Love (1983) is the perfect match for Toronto’s Ezra’s Atlantic Co-Op, a sort of guerrilla theatre company that produces gritty, intense and powerful productions in untraditional theatre spaces.
Staged in the back of the Meta Gallery, an art gallery on Ossington Street that looks like it may have at one time been an industrial site, director Steven McCarthy has assembled a set filled with furniture that looks like it was salvaged from off the side of the road to create a dilapidated seedy motel room. He then arranges his audience’s chairs on either side of the set, so that they sit just on the very perimeter of the action, thrust into the world of Eddie and May, which feels explosive and dangerous, and we know there is no escape for us. The audience is both forced and compelled to be one hundred percent engaged.
The plays is centered on Eddie and May, a couple with a long, complicated and twisted relationship that dates back to when they were teenagers, or perhaps even longer. Their love and distain for one another, their desire to be enveloped in one another, as well as their need for distance, is explosive and complex. Their interactions become increasingly strained when the unseen figure of the Countess, Eddie’s most recent fling, arrives to seek her revenge on them both, and when Martin, May’s date, joins the fray and becomes complicit, against his will, to May and Eddie’s dark secret. Eddie and May are also haunted by the vision of the Old Man, who wants to be able to live on through them, and for his story to be properly told and understood, even though it is clear that this story is one that is deeply influenced by varying perspectives.
The Old Man, played by Barry Flatman, comes out of the audience, to suggest that he spends his time watching the action, commenting on it, but is as removed and distanced from the unfolding drama as we are. There is a wonderful moment during a particularly captivating monologue by Eddie, where the Old Man begins to nod off in boredom. He takes command of the set when he is on it, however, exerting his dominant comfort in the lives that he is intruding upon as well as his belonging to their story. Flatman, with an impeccable South-western American accent, is brilliantly gruff and mostly aloof, with a clear restless quality, but when his emotion tumbles forth, Flatman gives the Old Man a nice demanding urgency.
David Christo plays Martin, a man trying to maintain an even keel and civility while Eddie merrily fucks with his mind. The rhythm and dynamic between Christo’s Martin and Benjamin Blais’ Eddie is darkly hilarious and filled with an intensity that immediately captivates. Christo is also effective in capturing Martin’s helplessness as he is continually being pulled back and forth between May and Eddie, like a chew toy wanted by two rabid dogs. Blais gives vivid life to Eddie, a manipulative, machismo Cowboy who tries to remain cool and indifferent, but is continually revealing a myriad of emotion for May and the Old Man as the play progresses. His intense chemistry with Katie Boland’s May also becomes richer and fiercer as the story advances. Boland’s facial expressions, never forced but with the ability to wordlessly capture the wounded, vulnerability of her character, are the trademark of her poignant performance. Sometimes her words seem a little more wooden than they could be, but in general, her unbridled passionate outpouring of emotion makes a nice contrast to the more restrained Eddie and suggests not only how damaging her past has been, but also the challenges she faces in connecting to Eddie when the stakes with them are always life or death and can never be happily ever after.
Ezra’s Atlantic Co-Op has become dedicated to producing work that has the ability to sucker punch its audience with an intense and often darkly disturbing portrait of humanity in an isolating age. Fool For Love is a riveting example of how dangerously thrilling the theatre can be.
Fool for Love plays at the Meta Gallery (124 Ossington Avenue) until January 21st. All shows are at 8pm. For tickets or more information please email email@example.com