The Times of Trenton September 19, 1999 Playing the 'Fool'

McCarter Theatre starts its new season with Sam Shepard's intense study of a couple reunited by their relentless addiction to love

By TED OTTEN Special to The Times

Princeton's McCarter Theatre has launched its drama season with Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love," which opened officially Friday after three previews. Emily Mann directs, celebrating her 10th season as artistic director.

Though it has four characters, this single long act comedy-drama centers around May and Eddie, a recently reunited pair of former lovers who may or may not be resuming their tempestuous affair in a seedy motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert.

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James Morrison, familiar from McCarter's production of "The Mai" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," considers Eddie a fascinating character.

"I have an affinity with this play, for the man, his situation and with this writer. I grew up in Alaska with people like Eddie, and I've been in love, that kind of powerful, relentless love that drives him," Morrison said.

"Shepard captures an essence of America, a uniquely American, almost mythical western character," the actor continued. "I did have to learn to rope, but I had pointers from experts, including the author, who came to visit us during rehearsals."

Both Morrison and Laila Robins, who plays May, had high praise for both director Mann and author Shepard who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for "Buried Child."

"We were only in our first week of rehearsals," Robins reported, "so we were still exploring our first notions of character and story, but he was very open to our feelings and opinions, not like some playwrights who want their every word treated like sacred text."

"During rehearsals," Robins continued, "we talked about everything, including how the audience might accept and react to the play. We discussed how there might be differences in how men and women respond."

Morrison jumped to the defense of Eddie, whom May blames for the split.

"Eddie left. He's the kind of guy who has other things to do," Morrison said. "He told her he'd be back, but he didn't say when. So when she got tired of waiting, she left, and when Eddie was ready to come back, she was gone."

"He doesn't see his behavior as desertion, which is. one of the major themes of the play," he said. "Each blames the other. It's an interesting power struggle, which seems so wrong, considering the depth and height of their passion."

"These people are in love to the point of distraction, trying to reconcile that overwhelming love to the rest of their reality, trying to reconcile their fantasy of love to the actual love and its expression. There can be madness in that sublime ecstasy. When you're in love with somebody so absolutely, nothing else matters. It can be overwhelming."

Robins sees May as more sensible than her roving, irresponsible man. "Their relationship is addictive. They're not necessarily healthy for each other. But there's an unrelenting pull, as if that love were an addiction," Robins said. "Now May's living in a motel room, and he's back. That means coming to terms with her addiction all over again. She must face the truth of their past, which includes his running off just when May had felt solid.

"Eddie has wanderlust. May can't get him to stay in one place; she's very tired of Eddie's pattern. She's still in love, but trying to stop. She sees her love like a drug, and she'll fight back to stop her need of him. But like any addiction, it's not easy to stop; it's excruciatingly painful."

"The play starts way up there and then takes the audience further up, and that's demanding on an audience," Robins said.

"But here's a chance to hear Sam Shepard's voice, to experience a singularly unique American writer. That can be a powerful adventure," Morrison said, "and very accessible to the heart."

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