There's something to be said for a piece of theater that clocks in at under an hour. Sure, longer works have their place, especially when the time is used to deepen the characters or the world or the underlying situation of the story. Other times, it's obvious that the playwright — or the production itself — is just trying to fill time to make sure it is a "full" evening.
Sam Shepard's Fool for Love is certainly a full evening, even if it plays out in a shade under 60 minutes. The economical script gives us enough details about the characters that we can fill in the holes ourselves. The Jungle Theater's production provides a strong platform for Shepard's work, built on a pair of excellent performances at the play's center.
This is the second time around for Fool for Love at the Jungle. Back in 1996, Jungle founder Bain Boehlke — at its original, tiny location around the corner on Lake Street — crafted a hit production of the show. The 2013 edition isn't a replica of that version, but there is some shared DNA. First off, Terry Hempleman returns as Eddie, the hard-living and -loving cowboy on one side of the lovers' quarrel. The extra years add an extra layer of road dust and crust to Eddie, a character who wears his duct-taped cowboy boots with pride.
Fool for Love Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis; Through October 20; 612-822-7063
Boehlke also returns, though only as director and designer. In the original, he also played the Old Man, the familial glue that binds Eddie and May together. In his place is the extremely talented Allen Hamilton, who fills a role that is extremely important to the story but also largely passive. He spends most of the time to the side of the stage, sitting in a rocking chair watching the world go by or perhaps listening to the argument taking place in the world's most disgusting motel room.
In that dingy spot — painted in streaky industrial green — Eddie and May play out the latest chapter in an obviously longstanding relationship. Jennifer Blagen takes on the role of May, giving us a character who is absolutely exhausted by life but unable to see a way out of her situation.
Eddie and May have been locked into this codependent relationship since high school: It consists of moments of passion interspersed with jealousy and break-ups. In this case, Eddie has traveled 2,480 miles out of his way (with a trailer full of horses to boot; he's like the living embodiment of a Dodge Ram commercial) to see May in her motel room at the end of the world. She isn't interested in seeing him and is trying to move him aside with Martin. Jason Peterson's nervousness fits Martin well, as Eddie's harsh nature is ready to swallow him whole at any moment.
The darker secret that binds Eddie and May comes out midway through the play and is something they have long known. Yet like characters in a Greek tragedy, they are unable to shake their destiny, always reuniting and breaking apart again.
All of this could make for a titanic mess. Shepard's focused script certainly helps, as does Boehlke's tight staging and surreal set. The real power comes from the actors. Hempleman and Blagen fully embody their characters and then push them to the breaking point. Hamilton's occasional comment and final breakdown match the lead pair in intensity, even if he spends most of the show in a rocking chair. Peterson nearly gets lost in all of this but provides us with a valuable observer to the mad events on stage.
When talking about the show before the opening, Hempleman mentioned the Sex Pistols to describe the show's energy. Punk rock is a fitting lens for Fool for Love. The play was first produced in 1983, an era of bands playing 20- to 30-minute sets and releasing 15-minute albums. Acts like Black Flag and Minor Threat knew that brevity focused the experience to a sharp point. It's a lesson well taken in this production.