Set in a desolate motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert, Fool for Love displays an alternately tender and violent love-hate relationship. Unlike the struggle between two brothers in the playwright’s True West (1980), the conflict in Fool for Love is between a woman and a man. After a long absence, Eddie has traveled 2,480 miles to reclaim May, his lover since high school. At different times during their abrupt reunion she alternately orders him to leave and begs him to stay.
Eddie boasts spurs, bucking strap, and all the other trappings of a rodeo cowboy, but his quest for glory in that arena has left him broken down and prematurely old. As if trying to hold on to his heroic Western identity, he practices roping the motel furniture. Eddie’s affair with a society woman who drives a huge, black Mercedes-Benz has subverted his role as rugged cowboy. Angered by his desertion, the woman burns his pickup truck and sets his horses loose. A decrepit man trying to salvage his dream, Eddie talks of moving to Wyoming, where he can grow vegetables. Even in this fantasy, however, his residence will be a trailer, suggesting the ephemeral fragility of his dream.
May has long been confined to a trailer and to the claustrophobic motel room (against whose walls she frequently beats her head). In Shepard’s first sustained development of a female character, she attempts to escape these symbolic traps and shape an identity separate from Eddie by taking a job as a cook and by dating Martin, a pleasant although somewhat bland orphan. To disparage her efforts, Eddie claims that she cannot even flip an egg and labels Martin a twerp. Eddie further asserts that he and May will “always be connected.”
As in True West, these two characters are separate individuals and warring components of a single confused identity. May claims that she can smell Eddie’s thoughts before he thinks them, and they are half-sister and half-brother. They are drawn relentlessly into an incestuous love. Their father, identified as The Old Man, sits onstage during the entire play and comments occasionally on the action. He describes his relationships with two different women (the mothers of May and Eddie) as the same love that somehow got split in two. The play’s dialogue presents different versions of family history, and these debates about the past exemplify the difficulty of escaping the burden of family and forging an individual identity—a theme developed more fully in A Lie of the Mind (1985).
The shabby old man sits in a rocking chair drinking whiskey. He exists only in the minds of Eddie and May. May sits on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor. Eddie sits at the table facing May, working resin into his bucking glove. He tosses the glove on the table and insists to May that he is not leaving. She will not look at him. He moves closer to stroke her hair. She squeezes his legs, then pushes him away. May says he smells like he was with another woman. Eddie says it was the horses.
Eddie leaves, disgusted. May screams for him not to go, grabs a pillow, and throws herself on the bed, moaning and moving around on it. Eddie returns, slamming the door. May backs herself into a corner and says she will kill the countess he was with, and then she will kill Eddie. Eddie tells her how many miles he rode to see her. He lowers his eyes and says he misses her neck. Eddied insists he has it all figured out this time, but May does not want to hear it. She says she has her own job and life now. When Eddie seems ready to accept that May wants him to leave, they come together for a long, tender kiss. Then May knees him in the groin. Eddie doubles over and drops to the floor. May goes into the bathroom and slams the door. The old man points to a picture of Barbara Mandrell and claims he is married to her in his mind, and it is important that Eddie understand the difference between being married in his mind and being married in real life.
May comes out of the bathroom carrying a sleek...
(The entire section is 2,899 words.)