While the two sides of the aisle at T and B were not both completely enchanted with the plays, we did agree that the acting in Fool for Love and Old Times was mesmerizing. Your motives for seeing Fool for Love and Old Times may vary. Sam Shepard has been your favorite playwright from way back. You want to see Clive Owen in his Broadway debut. Seeing Sam Rockwell throw a lasso as if he really is a rodeo wrangler like his character Eddie inspires you to go. You never miss seeing a Harold Pinter play.
Love can make you behave in strange and puzzling ways. It makes us do odd, even absurd things.
In Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through December 13th, it seems to have driven the lovers mad. Although that may not be a fair assessment of their states of mind. They, May (Nina Arianda) and Eddie (Sam Rockwell), are a hard-knuckle pair.
Eddie swaggers, bringing his flashy rodeo tricks into the parlor. May–sassy and jealous– delights in his macho posturing. What’s left of their love is hurt.
While Shepard’s play is entangled in the physical, Harold Pinter’s Old Times, at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre through November 29th, depends solely on words. In Fool for Love there is action–Eddie is adept with a lasso, May is thrown against a wall– to steer us through the reminiscences. Not that Shepard’s prose is not expansive and Bunyonesque– like tall tales boldly told. Shepard’s yarn is spun with less economy than Pinter’s.
Pinter’s Old Times is alive with language. Pinter cherishes a cliché. He turns it this way and that so lovingly that it breathes its own air. Familiar phrases develop different meanings as he turns them inside out and sideways. Deeley’s (Clive Owen) polite but eager curiosity about his wife, Kate’s (Kelly Reilly) past is uneasily quenched by Anna (Eve Best.) Her visit is full of promise and innuendo which conflates ordinary exchanges. The leer in Deeley’s voice easily turns the straightforward into the sexual.
Shepard takes a long, hard look at obseesive attraction while Pinter steps gingerly around what was and might have been.
The plays cover similar territory. Passion, even in Pinter’s understated and circuitous way, is at once sublime and absurd.
MTC’s production of Fool for Love, under Daniel Aukin’s direction, benefits from the stunning acting, not just of its principals, but also from the supporting players. Tom Pelphrey is superb as the country bumpkin who comes to pick May up. Gordon Joseph Weiss as a symbol of May and Eddie’s past is also first-rate. Arianda and Rockwell give searingly visceral performances.
The trio in Douglas Hodge’s elegant interpretation of Old Times are no slouches. Great acting is one of the things that both these productions share. Best’s Anna is coolly seductive while Reilly’s Kate is detached and self-possessed. Of the threesome, it is only Owen’s Deeley who is perturbed and astir; he is excitable despite the stiff-upper-lip patter, and excited by the circumstances.
Both Shepard and Pinter leave us with as many questions as answers. What is remembered? Is anyone telling the truth? Both plays are also short as well as enigmatic. Old Times clocked in at just under 1 hour at the performance we witnessed. Fool for Love fulfilled its promise of an hour and fifteen.