The Play (Masterplots II: Drama)
Fool for Love is set in a “stark, low-rent motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert.” A general clutter of female things can be seen through the bathroom door at far stage right. At far stage left, a small platform framed by black curtains holds an old maple rocking chair draped with an equally worn horse blanket. As the play begins, the lights fade to darkness. Merle Haggard’s song “Wake Up” is heard, its volume swelling as the lights rise.
As the lights come up, Eddie speaks first to May, attempting to mollify her, but it quickly becomes apparent that they are at a pause in a long argument of violently conflicting emotions. Eddie has come to take her back after an absence of some duration, having abandoned her to sit, as she puts it, “in a tin trailer for weeks on end with the wind ripping through it.” She accuses him of sexual infidelity during his absence and threatens to kill Eddie and his lover with two sharp knives, one for each of them, “so the blood doesn’t mix.” When Eddie tells her that he has “a piece of ground up in Wyoming,” she refuses to go. She has become a “regular citizen,” with a job as a short-order cook. She accuses him of attempting once again to sucker her “into some dumb little fantasy,” only to disappear. She refuses to let him spend the night, but when Eddie agrees to leave, she calls him back, kisses him tenderly, “then suddenly knees him in the groin with tremendous force.”...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama)
Sam Shepard characteristically creates a thematic and emotional resonance by using the stage setting as a metaphor for the interior lives of the characters, and Fool for Love is no exception. The stage marks out not only physical space for the play’s action, but an interior space as well. The “stark, low-rent motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert” is, properly speaking, May’s room. The spare furnishings, the faded bedspread, the metal table with the worn formica top, and the picture window framed by “dirty, long, dark green plastic curtains,” all reflect her despondency.
Eddie invades May’s room. (In the film version, for which Shepard wrote the screenplay, he literally bursts through the door.) Like the Old Man, who kept “disappearing and reappearing,” Eddie repeats the pattern not only in May’s life, but also on the stage. The physical dimensions of the room can barely contain him. At one point, he does “a backflip across the stage and crashes into [the] stage right wall.” He exits and reenters several times during the play, and the movement is always marked with a physical violence that reflects his emotional turmoil. When he exits, he slams the door behind him and the “door booms.” As originally staged, the doors were electronically amplified with microphones and bass drums, accentuating the slamming to surreal proportions. With the masculine swagger of the stunt man and rodeo cowboy, Eddie may yearn for the...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Mojave Desert (moh-HAHV-ee). Southern California desert that is a defining image of the American West. It is a vast and dangerous place that one must travel through, just as May and her half-brother Eddie navigate through their troubled relationship. The desert creates a forbidding atmosphere as it imposes its vastness around the shabby motel.
Motel. Located on the edge of the Mojave Desert, this dingy, unnamed motel is the home of May. For playwright Sam Shepard, the motel room symbolizes the loneliness and romance of the American Highway. It is a place to rest and replenish as one travels through the vast wilderness of relationships. May originally comes to the motel to escape Eddie and their incestuous love affair. However, the motel offers little comfort. Although Eddie has driven more than two thousand miles to find May, the transient nature of the motel room setting and the open road that lies outside foreshadows his inevitable abandonment of May. It also parallels their father’s constant traveling from household to household, woman to woman, eventually abandoning Eddie’s mother, who commits suicide. Not a destination in and of itself, the motel room reflects the idea that the real action in May and Eddie’s lives occurs in their traveling from place to place.
*Wyoming. Rocky Mountain state in which Eddie promises to make a home for May....
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In 1983, the United States was a country of contradictions. Its president was Republican Ronald Reagan, who served a total of two terms with his conservative, anti-Communist platform. Reagan was a former movie actor who often played western hero roles; his presidency was greatly informed by his persona as an actor, as he co-opted heroic cowboy rhetoric in his diplomatic dealings and made highly effective use of his television-ready talents. Reagan was also seen as family man, though he was the first president to have been divorced. Many Americans responded to Reagan’s role as president, though a number of critics, finding the former thespian’s politics superficial and showy, complained that the executive’s position was little more than that, a role essayed by an actor.
In 1982, a five-year recession ended for the United States. While inflation in 1983 was only 3.2%, the economy was only relatively prosperous despite Reagan’s promises. Reagan’s government promoted supply-side economics and de-industrialization. There were many mergers and acquisitions as the government promoted deregulation for big industries. Tax cuts were given to the rich and the government spent a great...
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Fool for Love takes place in a motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert in California. All the action is confined to one motel room, occupied by May. It is a cheap room with faded paintings and old fashioned floors and furnishings. Adjacent to the room is a bathroom and the parking lot. The Old Man sits in a rocker inside the room, from which he can observe the proceedings and comment as necessary. Because this room is May’s and a symbol of her growing sense of independence, Eddie’s presence seems like an invasion as he tries to control her within it and lure her out of it. May ends up leaving on her own, but the Old Man, her father, remains, as he will be part of her consciousness forever.
The tensions in Fool for Love are economically and effectively emphasized by sound effects. Every time Eddie or May bangs into a wall, the stage directions call for it to ‘‘boom.’’ According to the stage directions, the front and bathroom doors are supposed to be specially constructed to make the boom louder when they are slammed shut. This effect underscores the volatile emotions at hand.
Eddie’s other woman, ‘‘The Countess,’’ never makes a physical appearance, but her presence is made known by sound and light effects. The audience sees the head beams of her Mercedes and the sound of the car pulling up in front of May’s room. The...
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Compare and Contrast
1983: Cellular phone service is tested in Chicago. The bulky phones cost $3000, while monthly service fees total about $150. The target audience is businessmen who need to keep in constant touch with clients and their home office.
Today: Cellular phone service is available throughout the United States. Palm-sized phones are available. Phones and rates are relatively inexpensive. Many people use cellular phones to keep in touch with loved ones from anywhere at anytime.
1983: Early Macintosh computers are introduced. The Lisa model is the first to feature a mouse. IBM announces its development of a chip that can story 512K of memory.
Today: Personal computers are available for under $1000. Memory capabilities can measured in the gigabytes. The mouse is obsolete on laptops, which can feature trackpads to move a cursor. With widely available access to the Internet, people can easily remain in contact with their friends and family around the globe.
1983: The United States invades the island of Grenada. Marines land to protect U.S. citizens (and interests) from the Marxist government.
Today: The United States protects its interests by participating in the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) bombing of Kosovo, among other military operations.
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Topics for Further Study
Explore the themes of Fool for Love via the two pieces of music called for in the stage directions, Merle Haggard’s ‘‘Wake Up’’ and ‘‘I’m the One Who Loves You.’’
Research the psychological implications of incest. Use your research to explore May’s con- flicted feelings for Eddie and Eddie’s desire for May.
Compare Fool for Love with Passion, a play by Peter Nichols which appeared at the same time on Broadway. Both plays explore sexual politics, though Passion is about people from the upper class. What does each play say about class and sexual relationships in this time period?
Research the psychology of men who lead dual lives with two or more women, like the Old Man did with Eddie’s mother and May’s mother. Why do they make this choice? How does it affect their children?
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What Do I Read Next?
True West, a play by Shepard that was first produced in 1980. This play also concerns troubled siblings (two brothers) and their absentee father.
The Magic Toyshop, a novel by Angela Carlin that was published in 1969. The story focuses on an incestuous relationship through the eyes of a teenage girl.
Six Characters in Search of an Author, a play by Luigi Pirandello that was published in 1950. The drama employs a technique similar to the one used in Fool for Love in which an empty chair is placed outside the frame.
Forbidden Partners: The Incest Taboo in Modern Culture, a nonfiction book by James S. B. Twitchell published in 1987. In this book, Twitchell explores the use of incest in art and literature in the contemporary culture of the United States.
Buried Child, a play by Shepard first produced in 1978. In the play, a family secret of incest and infanticide is accidentally discovered years after the fact.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Brustein, Robert. Review of Fool for Love in the New Republic, June 27, 1983, pp. 24-25.
Hughes, Catharine. ‘‘The World of Sam Shepard’’ in America, November 5, 1983, p. 274.
Kalem, T. E. Review of Fool for Love in Time, June 6, 1983, p. 79.
Kerr, Walter. ‘‘Where Has Shepard Led His Audience?’’ in the New York Times, June 5, 1983, sec. 2, p. 3.
Kleb, William. ‘‘Sam Shepard’s Free-for-All: Fool for Love at the Magic Theatre’’ in Theater, Summer-Fall, 1983, pp. 77-82.
Kroll, Jack. ‘‘Badlands of Love’’ in Newsweek, June 6, 1983, p. 90.
Rich, Frank. ‘‘Stage: ‘Fool for Love,’ Sam Shepard Western’’ in the New York Times, May 27, 1983, p. C3.
Shepard, Sam. ‘‘Fool for Love’’ in Famous Plays of the 1980s, Laurel, 1988, pp. 33-95.
Simon, John. ‘‘Soft Centers’’ in New York, June 13, 1983, pp. 76-77.
Bottoms, Stephen J. The Theatre of Sam Shepard: Studies of Crisis, Cambridge University Press, 1998. In this book, Bottoms takes a critical look at Shepard’s life through his plays, including an extensive discussion of...
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Bibliography (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Auerback, Doris. Sam Shepard, Arthur Kopit, and the Off Broadway Theater, 1982.
Bank, Rosemarie. “Self as Other: Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love and A Lie of the Mind.” In Feminist Rereadings of Modern American Drama, edited by June Schlueter. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989.
Bigsby, C.W.E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Vol. 3, Beyond Broadway, 1985.
Hart, Lynda. Sam Shepard’s Metaphorical Stages. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. In the section of her book about Shepard’s brand of realism, “Realism Revisited,” Hart devotes several pages of discussion to the staging of Fool for Love.
Londre, Felicia Hardison. “A Motel of the Mind: Fool for Love and A Lie of the Mind.” In Rereading Shepard, edited by Leonard Wilcox. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. An interesting discussion of motels as metaphors for states of mind and heart in Shepard’s plays.
Marlowe, Joan, and Betty Blake, eds. New York Theatre Critics’ Reviews 44, no. 19 (1983): 212-216. Six reviews from New York papers. Gives a wide range of interpretive opinions about the original Shepard-directed production.
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