Sam Shepard’s 1983 stage drama Fool For Love saunters onstage at the Alchemist Theatre this month. OutLaw Artists’ production of the drama has Marissa Clayton and Evan James Koepnick as a couple of lovers meeting in a run down hotel in the desert. We get one hour in their lives together. It’s one hour onstage for characters, actors, script and audience. The story settles-in. By the time it has fully asserted itself, it’s already over. One hour of drama. It’s a satisfying hour.
The Four People in the Center
Marissa Clayton and Evan James Koepnick interact through the script with May and Eddie: a couple of characters who seem to hate and love each other. In the course of an hour, the two characters lovingly rip the hell out of each other. Overt and subtle hostility weave in and out of each other as we find out about them, how they know each other and how they feel about each other. It’s really complicated stuff that Clayton and Koepnick do a really good job of developing for the stage. There’s a real synthesis between the two actors and the two characters that’s interesting to watch. Clayton is impressively balanced: vulnerable in her aggression and aggressive in her vulnerability. Kopenick plays with his character’s desperate need for dominance with the slow, steady determination of a junkie who knows he’s going to get his fix. Things tumble together and shatter apart beautifully by the end of the hour.
Director Benjamin Wilson has fostered a really organic interaction between the actors that allows for some subtle imperfections here and there. The southern drawl is carefully crafted between both actors, but every now and then there’s a word or pronunciation that feels a bit too midwestern. The flow of aggression and affection between characters feels quite vivid, but every now and then there’s something that hits a bit forced beyond what the characters are trying to present to each other. We get little glimpses of the artifice beyond and within characters, actors, intention and execution that slides a bit out of synch before snapping back together beautifully. A couple of actors portray a couple of characters portraying a couple of people they’re trying to be. There are overlapping artifices that keep everything smooth, fluid and fun for the entire hour regardless of where attentions and intentions might lie.
The Old Man
Ron Scot Fry plays the old guy on the side who May and Eddie have brief encounters with. He’s not really married to Barbara Mandrell. His insistence that he feels like he's married to her draws questions into the narrative of the backstory that make for an interesting exploration into the nature of truth in biography. Fry’s simple appearance as a man who isn’t actually there holds an earthbound magic of casual mystery about it. Fry isn’t imposing. He holds a shadow’s charm in the background that occasionally haunts into the foreground. It's an interesting approach to a character who sometimes plays like a dark, ominous god in the background of a production. Fry gives the character a much-needed fragility that goes a long way toward cutting down on the overwhelming power of Shepard's aggression.
The Other Guy
Thorin Ketelsen plays a nice, unassuming local guy who knows May. He swings by thinking that he’s taking her to the movies. He’s wrong. Ketelsen is excellent in the nice guy role...he may tower over everyone else here, but he’s got such an unassuming presence about him onstage. As an audience, we’re seeing the world through his eyes...maybe he just wanted to go out with her to the movies in 1983...maybe go out and see A Night in Heaven, Yentl or Terms of Endearment and ended up getting an entirely different kind of story.
The Cars Outside
Decent lighting and sound design are so often overlooked. So often as an audience we’re doing a lot of work imagining that sounds in a stage play are actually going on in the world of the play. We shouldn’t have to do this...especially in a tiny, little intimate studio theatre like the Alchemist. Between the lighting by AntiShadows LLC and Aaron Kopec’s work on Surround Sound Design, there’s a really vivid feel to cars outside the hotel room. A car pulls-up and...it actually kind of FEELS like a car has pulled-up in a world beyond the backstage area. Honestly, it's a very subtle difference between that and simply cramming audio of a car and glaring lights beyond the curtains, but what Kopec and AntiShadows have managed here is a very cool effect that adds a very sharp atmosphere to a beautifully drab set that's been developed by Evan Crain and Marissa Clayton.
OutLawArtists’ production of Fool For Love runs through Aug. 19 at the Alchemist Theatre on 2569 S. KK Avenue. For ticket reservations and further information, visit Alchemist online.