Those slamming doors you just heard are echoing from the direction of Old Town, where Cygnet Theatre is staging Sam Shepard’s 75 minutes of raw tension known as Fool for Love. If rodeo rowdy Eddie (Francis Gercke) isn’t slamming behind him the front door of a claustrophobic motel room in the Mojave Desert, then his volatile lover, May (Carla Harting) is slamming the motel bedroom door behind her. Eddie and May are a desperately co-dependent pair, and as the story unfolds it will turn out that’s the least of their issues.
Cygnet Artistic Director is calling the presentation in rotating repertory of two of Shepard’s imaginary plays, Fool for Love and True West, the theater’s “Shep Rep.” (True West will be reviewed next week.) Like another regional theater with a jones for Shepard (Carlsbad’s New Village Arts has in recent seasons staged both Simpatico and Buried Child), Cygnet is embracing the playwright’s dark, simmering leitmotifs, with their frayed families and frequent shots of booze and violence. Fool for Love is archetypical. While Eddie and May do their metaphorical dance of self-destruction, the spectral presence of their father (Antonio TJ Johnson) looms in a rocking chair in the corner. The Old Man IS their old man, and each can hear him independent of the other when he speaks. Trouble is, they have two different mothers, meaning that lovers Eddie and May are half-siblings. Each tells the truth as he or she sees it to Martin (Manny Fernandes), an innocent good guy who arrives to pick up May for a night at the movies. Fool for Love’s unseen antagonist is The Countess, whom Eddie evidently has been diddling, and who decides to exact revenge in the parking lot – and you thought slamming doors was loud.
Gercke and Harting are worthy adversaries, alternately pathetic and explosive. Gercke’s finest moment may be how believably he brings off Eddie’s having been kneed in the groin by May – in the middle of a kiss. Talk about pain in your Mojave Desert.
Murray’s direction ramps up the mystery and the anxiety, and Fool for Love’s silences are so thoughtfully timed that each eruption, slamming door or otherwise, jolts you in the shoulders.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.