Sam Shepard's oft-produced 'Fool for Love' gets a refreshing take from Dark & Stormy

Rich Ryan

Rich Ryan

Dark & Stormy Productions is unusual among theater companies in that it's led by an actor instead of a director or writer. That makes for awkward moments when Sara Marsh steps onstage to run through a laundry list of announcements (fill out your surveys, turn off your phones) before reappearing in character moments later, but there's no arguing with the power of what happens once the shows begin.

Fool for Love

Grain Belt Brewery Warehouse
$34-$39; $15 for those under 30

The five-year-old company is known for choosing challenging plays, innovatively staged and sometimes physically intense, that provide powerful showcases for Marsh and her castmates. That's certainly the case with Fool for Love, the 1983 Sam Shepard play the company's now staging in their Grain Belt Studios space.

The audience is seated on either side of a four-poster bed that occupies a cheap motel room in the desert Southwest. (You have to stretch your imagination to get there, since with the space's high ceilings and exposed brick, the bedroom looks more like a luxury loft.) Without the proscenium that Shepard envisioned, an old man who's typically seated off to the side squats on his chair just across a rug at the foot of the bed, watching the action like TV.

As old men do when they watch TV, this Old Man (Patrick Coyle) grunts and grumbles at what he sees — to little avail. He's in another world from that occupied by May (Marsh) and Eddie (James Rodríguez), ex-lovers who've reconnected for a tumultuous night of lust in the dust.

This Fool for Love departs from the typical Shepard show not just in the stage layout, but in its general ambience. Shepard's plays are full of hard truths and shattered illusions, and you can emerge from some productions feeling like you've been boxed about the ears. Here, though, director Mel Day finds a lighter tone, leaving an even more precipitous plunge to the play's chilling conclusion.

Marsh finds, in May, a manic pixie dream girl who's started to outlive her dreams. Flirtatious but deliberate, Marsh throws her slight frame entirely into the encounter, at one point wrapping herself around her partner's body as tightly as one of those things that jump from the eggs in Alien. It's Eddie who's the alien, though: back from might as well be outer space, stretching and infecting his bond of trust with May.

As Eddie, Rodríguez has a jaunty, open-faced demeanor that initially pairs well with Marsh's bitterly bemused May. As the play accelerates, though, Rodríguez doesn't put the pedal to the metal. When Eddie toys with another man (Antonio Duke) who shows up to take May on a date, we don't feel the anger or the danger behind Eddie's outwardly breezy demeanor. The atmosphere changes markedly when a forceful Coyle finally roars to life near the play's end.

All in all, Dark & Stormy's show is a refreshingly different take on one of Shepard's most frequently staged plays. Shepard vets will find new dimensions in Eddie and May, and audience members meeting this contentious couple for the first time will have a much less astringent encounter than they might elsewhere. This engaging production serves as a welcome reminder that although Shepard is gone, his work remains very much alive.