Critical Overview

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 755

Critics of the original productions of Fool for Love were divided from the first. Even those that praised the play, however, qualified their kudos. For example, Jack Kroll of Newsweek wrote, ‘‘It’s a classic rattlesnake riff by Shepard, the poet laureate of America’s emotional Badlands. Fool for Love is minor Shepard, but nobody can match the sheer intensity he generates in his dramatizing of lyric obsessiveness.’’ Frank Rich of the New York Times concurred: ‘‘Fool for Love isn’t the fullest Shepard creation one ever hopes to encounter, but, at this point in this writer’s prolific 20-year career, he almost demands we see his plays as a continuum: they bleed together.’’

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Even critics who disliked Fool for Love found Shepard’s production worthy of note. Robert Brustein, in the New Republic, wrote, ‘‘There is nothing very thick or complicated about either the characters or the plot, and the ending lacks resolution. But Fool for Love is not so much a text as a legend, not so much a play as a scenario for stage choreography, and under the miraculous direction of the playwright, each moment is rich with balletic nuances.’’ Brustein credited Shepard’s direction and his actors for the success of the play. Brustein ended his review by saying they ‘‘exalt what in other hands might have been a slight, unfinished script into an elegiac myth of doomed love.’’ William Kleb of Theater agreed, writing ‘‘Fool for Love comes across as a kind of psycho-sexual freefor- all, or nightmare, and Shepard’s production magnifies and intensifies the violence of its action and imagery.’’

Some critics found the expression of fury in Fool for Love to be problematic to the point of monotony. Walter Kerr of the New York Times wrote, ‘‘Physically and mechanically the [original] production knows what it is about. I wish we did. I say it because Mr. Shepard does not want us ever to be certain of what his door-slamming dance of rage is meant to signify.’’ Kerr went on to say, ‘‘The evening flirts with a fundamental boredom because of a strong sense that, under the makeup, there is nobody there.’’ His colleague Rich concurred, noting, ‘‘The knockabout physical humor sometimes becomes excessive both in the writing and in the playing; there are also, as usual, some duller riffs that invite us to drift away.’’ T. E. Kalem of Time took it a step further, writing ‘‘Even the love play is ominous. With his cowboy spurs and boots Shepard’s symbols for the untrammeled, virile male Eddie hurls himself against walls, somersaults across the floor and swings his lariat to rope in bedposts and random chairs. This is an amusing form of sexual intimidation, but it does not wholly evade silliness.’’

Kalem is one of several critics who found the impact of the incest angle less than satisfying. Kalem wrote that ‘‘in an effort to give a vivid but scarcely mind-churning work more mythic gravity, Shepard makes known long the way that the lovers are half-sister and half-brother. Somehow this lacks impact, merely suggesting that incest is the most potent brand of sibling rivalry.’’ Kleb agreed: ‘‘incest has little or no real function in the development of the central conflict of the play, and it is a matter of moral indifference not only to the characters but, here, to the playwright as well.’’

Critics who found Fool for Love problematic believed the play meanders. Catharine Hughes in America, wrote: ‘‘As in True West, it is the old versus the new West, lust versus love, love versus hate, with the innocent and oblivious Martin caught in the violent crossfire. And, I regret to say, it winds up going no place. Shepard seems incapable of bringing it into focus.’’ John Simon of New York held a similar view, stating that Shepard ‘‘makes, I regret to say, less sense of himself here than others have been known to make of him in the past, but that maybe because Fool for Love is a particularly opaque and inconclusive play, with the kind of open ending that does not so much make you want to speculate about it as shut the door behind it.’’ Not all critics agreed, however. Rich of the New York Times felt that ‘‘it could be argued, perhaps, that both the glory and the failing of Mr. Shepard’s art is its extraordinary afterlife: His words often play more feverishly in the mind after they’re over than they do while they’re before us in the theater.’’

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