Fools of Love: A Comparison of the Play and Film

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1811

Sam Shepard wrote the stage play for Fool for Love in 1983. Two years later, Shepard wrote the screenplay for the filmed version of Fool for Love and appeared in the movie as Eddie. Thus, Shepard was able to make his mark on two different versions of the same story. He had to meld each to the demands of their respective genres but also had a chance to expand on and explore different ideas within his core story. In this essay, the differences and similarities between the two versions will be discussed, as well as what these aspects say about the core story.

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At the heart of both the film and stage versions of Fool for Love is the tumultuous relationship between half-siblings Eddie and May. This conflict drives the plot and is the substance of the story. Eddie and May have carried on a long-time affair. There are accusations on both sides of abandonment and disloyalty. Both versions feature the lovers’ rata- tat arguments, their ‘‘coming together’’ and ‘‘falling apart.’’ However, the dialogue in the play seems more intense and unyielding, mostly because of the production demands. In the stage version, Fool for Love is performed straight through, with no intermission. There is no break from the tension, no escaping the confrontation. It is an all-out assault on the audience. In the film version, events are broken up a little more. There are breaks and pauses that last much longer because the film allows for longer silences while visual images add to or reflect on the story at hand.

The variations on Fool for Love’s settings enhances these differences in dialogue and intensity level. The stage requires a very static setting. In the play, Shepard confines his actions to one place, May’s motel room. There is no place else to go; the setting is claustrophobic and tense. When the play opens, Eddie is already inside May’s space, the confrontation is already in swing. If Shepard had broken his play up into acts or scenes, there could have been more settings, but the play’s confining force would have been compromised. As it stands, Eddie is intruding in May’s place and invading her life. The Old Man, their father, is present off to one side, rocking in his chair. Shepard specifically says in his stage directions that the Old Man ‘‘exists only in the minds of May and Eddie.’’ The Old Man’s presence is very unnatural, spiritual, when compared to Eddie’s imposing, corporeal presence.

These ideas take on very different forms in the film version. The space is again confined but not merely to May’s motel room. The movie uses a whole motel complex, consisting of individual, free-standing motel cabins, a restaurant/bar, a play area for children, a trailer for the Old Man, and a large parking lot. This variety of settings opens up numerous possibilities for expanded scenes. When the movie opens, Eddie is on the road and May is working in the restaurant. Eddie seems much more predatory in the movie, in part because he circles May’s new life as an animal would circle its prey. Eddie pulls into the motel complex, and May hides from him within the restaurant. Eddie goes on his way, perhaps thinking he has pulled into the wrong place but returns a short time later. By then, May has gone to her cabin and locked the front door. Then she hides in the bathroom and locks that door as well. To drive home Eddie’s invasion, Shepard has the character break down May’s front door. He literally invades her space in the movie.

Eddie has not only physically invaded May’s space, he has also invaded her sense of security, of mental stability. The audience can see that May has a job and her own life. These facts are stated but remain questionable in the play. Eddie and May make brief mention of her car, which tipped Eddie off that he was in the right place. There is no car in the play. May seems to have moved on, left her past behind—but for one factor. In the stage play, the Old Man is confined to a rocker on one side of the stage. In the movie, he has a whole trailer to himself with remnants of his past (mostly junk) surrounding it.

At the beginning of the movie, just before Eddie comes to the complex, May watches the Old Man through a window. He watches her back. This implies that May has lived with the Old Man’s presence much more than Eddie. She might have a new life, but it is lived in the shadow of the Old Man and her past. Eddie seems free of this constraint. There is nothing to indicate that the Old Man’s spirit haunts Eddie the way it does May. The only moment that comes close is when the Old Man invades Eddie’s space, checking out his truck while Eddie makes one of his initial confrontations with May. This detail adds a different spin on the triangle between the Old Man, Eddie, and May. The Old Man is much more mobile in the film. He walks around, sometimes hiding in corners, listening and watching events unfold.

Whether or not the Old Man is a figment of Eddie and May’s imagination in the film is debatable, but Shepard uses the demands of film to enhance one mythical part of the stage version. In the play, Shepard has Eddie, May, and the Old Man each deliver a monologue that tells part of their collective story. The Old Man talks about an incident when May was a child, crying in the car during a long trip. Eddie tells the first half of the story of how he and May met. May concludes the story. These tales may or may not be true in the stage play. It is hard to tell if they are part of the mythology these characters create about themselves or actual events. In the movie, these stories are told by the same characters, but Shepard uses the visual possibilities of the genre to add to their possible reality.

Shepard enhances these stories with a theme that runs through a large part of the film. Soon after Eddie appears, he goes outside to tend to his horses. May follows him. While they are in the parking lot, a couple and a little girl drive up. The threesome is dressed in 1950s clothing. They are the Old Man, May as a child, and May’s mother from decades past. The family checks into the motel. Later, the man leaves, then comes back after a short while. When the man comes back, young May is locked outside and plays on the swing set. She is retrieved by her father a short time later. Before he does so, there is a moment where the young May and the real May look at each other and hug. After the father takes the young May from the adult May, the elder woman lies down in the sand that surrounds the swing set. The Old Man comes over and tells his story about May as a child.

However, the Old Man’s story, like the ones Eddie and May tell later in the film, is almost a complete contradiction of the actual events. During each flashbacks, the actual events are shown. The stories match only in places, emphasizing the mythological elements in a way the stage play could never do. For example, in the Old Man’s story, he, May’s mother, and May are on a car trip, but May is not crying, nor is the mother asleep as he claims. Both are wide awake and silent. The Old Man does take young May into a field filled with cows, but it does not change the child’s demeanor to any noticeable degree.

Similarly, Eddie talks about the way the Old Man lived with them and the walk they took one day where he first met May. Many of the details are visually contradictory. For example, Eddie says that his father gave him the first sip of liquor after his father purchased a bottle. The visual story has the Old Man not offering his son anything. However, Eddie and his father do take a walk to a house with a red awning, and Eddie does see a young May. Of the three, May’s story matches the visuals the most, implying she is the most honest of the three characters, yet her story still contains several contradictory details. May is right about the fact that Eddie’s mother committed suicide, something with which Eddie agrees and the Old Man finds appalling. He cannot tolerate harsh reality as well as his children can.

The movie and the stage play diverge on ‘‘reality’’ on one, final point. Because the play’s action is confined to one room, the audience does not see the Countess (Eddie’s other woman) and her Mercedes- Benz nor do they see Eddie’s truck and his horses. While there are sound effects to make these elements seem real, the mythical aspects of the play can casts doubts on their existence. In the movie, these elements are shown. Though mere visual representation does not validate reality, the case for the existence of these elements is stronger in the film than the play. Though the Countess does not speak a word, she does step out of a Mercedes-Benz toting a gun. Similarly, there are horses, making Eddie’s claims about a new life in Wyoming seem possible. At the end of the movie, after the Countess sets fire to Eddie’s truck and May packs her bags to leave, Eddie is shown riding one of his horses to catch up with the Countess. May walks down the road in the opposite direction. What is implied at the end of the stage play becomes reality in the movie.

The stage and film versions of Fool for Love retain many of the same story elements but use them quite differently. Each version of the story is distinct. The movie’s intensity level is not as sustained as the play’s because of the demands of the genre. The play cannot match the visual elements that the film boasts. Ultimately, the film explains what the play implies. The play’s intellectual demands on its audience are much greater. The audience must decide what is truth and what is myth as it watches the play unfold. The movie limits possible interpretations because many points left untold in the play are fully realized. Neither version is better than the other but both show the depth of Shepard’s ability as both a playwright and screenwriter.

Source: A. Petrusso, for Drama for Students, Gale, 2000.

Review of Fool for Love

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 669

Shepard’s new play is Fool for Love, which came to New York from the Magic Theatre of San Francisco in the production Shepard directed for that theater (with which he has been allied for the last few years). Not the kind of love story that Austin was trying to write, this is a Shepard love story, which means still another confrontation, one which reveals that May and Eddie, however often they try to go their separate ways, are inextricably bound together. It is a binding which suggests that of Lee and Austin and indicates that the play, whatever its surface melodramatic plot, is about the nature—the ‘‘double nature,’’ I suppose I should say—of love. Since May and Eddie are (or may be: evidence is always hard to verify in a Shepard play) half brother and sister, it is possible that the playwright intends the kind of split he presented in True West, a common personality that is at once feminine and masculine, gentle and violent, holding and escap- ing. I do not intend to imply that either side of these compounds be assigned solely to the man or the woman in the play. Eddie is a rodeo performer, a wanderer, who returns once again to May, who rejects him and hangs on to him, often within alternating lines.

The action takes place in Andy Stacklin’s stark setting—both realistic, suggesting the cheapest kind of motel, and metaphorical—a playing area so lightly furnished that it holds little besides the bed, a table at which the characters can drink, and a host of uncontrolled emotions. It is simultaneously a trap (Shepard directed Kathy Whitton Baker’s May to hug the walls as she circled like a caged animal) and a refuge, and both characters leave at the end, exiting into a blaze of light (Eddie’s burning truck, set fire by an angry lover who has also shot up the motel), each going his own way but with no sense that this is other than a temporary rest before the next reunion. It is possible that their telling the story of their meeting—their high school romance, the disastrous events that followed the discovery that the father had two wives (Eddie begins, May picks it up, and the versions do not mesh)—is intended to mark a genuine change in the compulsive connection between them; but I think not, even though the Old Man, presumably the father, explains that love involves the ability to walk away, an embrace that is not a stranglehold. The Old Man is an equivocal character, a figure who sits at the edge of the stage commenting on the action, now and then accepting a drink from Eddie, a product of Eddie’s imagination perhaps but one so concrete that he can eventually invade the playing area and defend his own idea of love.

Women characters—particularly mother figures— carry heavy thematic weight in Shepard plays (Curse of the Starving Class, Buried Child, even True West), usually in contrast to a male/father figure, but the roles tend to be peripheral. Not since Cowboy Mouth (1971) has a woman character shared the central conflict, but Fool for Love has more to do with a play like True West than it does with Shepard’s work from the early 1970s. As usual with Shepard, Fool for Love is at once ambiguous and concrete, marvelously effective in some of its bits, a blending of the theatrical and the ideational; but occasionally, despite the intensity of the performers and the production, it seems suddenly to go languid, to trap itself in reiteration which is not the same as repetition in the best dramatic sense. Perhaps I was simply spoiled by the Steppenwolf True West, which kept me constantly alert, checking for booby traps in the laughter. In Fool for Love, I found myself wanting to say, yes, I know.

Source: Gerald Weales, review of Fool for Love in the Georgia Review, Vol. XXXVII, no. 3, Fall, 1983, pp. 602–04.

Soft Centers

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 899

Originality may but need not be a virtue; remember original sin. It is time we stopped gushing about Sam Shepard’s almost sinful originality (it amounts to no more than facility) and ask ourselves to what uses he puts it—in, say, Fool for Love, the current import from San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, complete with his staging and cast. Since so much of Shepard’s action takes place between the lines, it is good to see just what the author has in mind with his action-packed silences. And, for that matter, how he wants his often gnomic utterances to be uttered.

He makes, I regret to say, less sense of himself here than others have been known to make of him in the past, but that may be 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. We are in a motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert, but so underfurnished and penurious that the desert might as well be running through it. Sitting on the bed is May, a waitress or short-order cook, her head hanging down, disconsolate. Circling around her is Eddie, a rancher or stunt man in westerns, her on-and-off lover since high school fifteen years ago, and perhaps her half-brother. At the edge of the set, where limbo seems to begin, sometimes in the action and sometimes out of it, The (their?) Old Man sits rocking and guzzling Jim Beam.

May has resolved to give up on Eddie; in fact, she would just as soon stab him to death during a kiss, but, in the event, she merely knees him in the privates. Eddie, denying her accusations that he has two-timed her with the Countess (whoever she is), tells May that, to see her, he has come thousands of miles from a Wyoming ranch he wants to buy for them to live and prosper on. They quarrel, fight, almost make love; she can’t quite let him go, yet is expecting Martin, some sort of janitor or caretaker, who will take her to the movies. This arouses Eddie’s jealous fury. Meanwhile the Old Man maunders on about being married to Barbara Mandrell, whose invisible picture he sees on the wall; later he reminisces about May and Eddie, suggesting he might have begotten them on two wives between whom he shuttled till he vanished altogether.

That’s the play in a nutshell, though it’s nuttier than this makes it sound. May and Eddie bounce themselves and each other against the walls and floor as if they were both players and balls in a jai alai game. When not tossing their bodies, they hurl recriminations and self-justifications; sometimes the Old Man interrupts with his bizarre ramblings, and sometimes the Countess, in her car in the parking lot outside (where Eddie’s caravan and horses are also parked), races around beaming her headlights into the room and, if we’re to believe Eddie (who is easily as tricky as Sam Shepard himself), aims to shoot them both. As it happens, she merely sets the caravan, and perhaps the horses, on fire. When Martin shows up, he becomes the fall guy for both May and Eddie, though in fact it is Eddie who falls on his behind and scoots around on it chasing Martin, which adds to the production’s athleticism if not to its clarity.

Ideas—mostly old but still serviceable—float or rampage around: Old West versus New West, sex versus love, lovehate between man and woman, the disintegrating family, the innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of mighty opposites, and so on; they have all done yeoman’s work in previous Shepard plays. And again, what dominates here, only more so, is the absence, the powerful absence of discipline, Shepard’s besetting sin. The characters are raucously idiosyncratic, the dialogue is very much the author’s eccentric and evocative own, the violence is zanily original as violence goes, but what does it all add up to? Or does it merely subtract from such better efforts as True West and Buried Child?

Shepard, moreover, has overdirected his play into frenzies of violence as well as excesses of languor, until both the pregnant silences and the abortive explosions threaten to burst the play at its seams—if only those seams could be located. For disjointedness is the order of the evening. Andy Stacklin’s set is suitable and, above all, sturdy, for it has to take even more of a beating than the characters; Kurt Landisman’s lighting and Ardyss L. Golden’s costumes are equally apt. A fine cast, too: Ed Harris’s Eddie, ominously lassoing the bedstead; Will Marchetti’s Old Man, garrulous even when silent; Dennis Ludlow’s Martin, his innocence painfully mauled. Best of all is Kathy Baker’s May, with the face of a Mannerist angel fallen on its face, but sexier for being slightly out of whack; a voice husky with injury that plays xylophone on your spine; and a personality all silken menace, for which any panther would sell his skin. But Fool for Love is finally, despite moments of gallows or lariat humor, all portents—ponderous, imponderable.

Source: John Simon, ‘‘Soft Centers’’ in New York, Vol. 17, no. 24, June 13, 1983, pp. 76–77.

Review of Fool for Love

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 747

Sam Shepard, the California (at present) spellbinder, has brought his company from San Francisco’s Magic Theatre to the Circle Repertory in his new play Fool for Love, which he himself has directed, and which will run through June 19th. It is as mysterious and unsettling—now you see it, now you don’t—as spare and, incidentally, as funny as anything he has ever done. I cannot remember being taken aback more often, at so many unpredictable moments, and I’ll try, in describing it, to spoil as few of the surprises as possible. The action takes place in a motel room in California, at the edge of the Mojave Desert. A young woman, utterly dejected, is sitting on the edge of the bed, her head in her hands and her long hair streaming over her arms. She is called May, and across the room, sitting on a chair and looking at her, is Eddie. Watching them from a porch outside the room sits the Old Man, with a bottle of liquor. Eddie tries to talk to May but gets no reply; he tentatively walks over to her, touches her neck, and strokes her hair. She grabs his legs and refuses to let go. When he shakes free, she speaks her first words to him: ‘‘You smell. I don’t need you.’’ She accuses him of trying to erase her, and then threatens to kill him and the rich woman he has been living with. He protests that he has driven more than two thousand miles to find her, crying much of the way because he missed her so. ‘‘How many times have you done this to me?’’ she asks him. They stare at each other and then start to make love, but she hurts him and he falls to the floor. ‘‘You’re a stunt man,’’ she says, and exits into an adjoining bathroom. The Old Man speaks for the first time: ‘‘I thought you were supposed to be a fantasist,’’ he says to Eddie, whereas he himself is a realist. Pointing to a nonexistent picture on a blank wall and then describing it, he remarks, ‘‘That’s realism.’’ For a while, I thought the Old Man was meant to be the dramatist’s alter ego, the spinner of the plot, for he never takes his eyes off the action within the room, and he comments on it from time to time, but later in the play another possibility presents itself. A fourth character, who appears about two-thirds of the way through, is a hapless young fellow named Martin, who arrives to take May to the movies and becomes, poor soul, the butt of Eddie’s funniest jokes and business. A fifth character, who does not appear, is the rich woman, who drives what we are told is her huge black Mercedes- Benz back and forth in front of the motel, shining the bright headlights into the room. (‘‘How crazy is she?’’ May asks. ‘‘Pretty crazy,’’ says Eddie.)

In Fool for Love, Mr. Shepard, his extraordinary imagination in charge, probes as deeply into the two lovers and rings as many changes on them as he did with the brothers of True West. Like the brothers, May and Eddie lie and love and fight and struggle for command, with no victory in sight. There is a subterranean plot, and there are several of this dramatist’s incomparable monologues (well, comparable perhaps to Harold Pinter’s). In Fool for Love, no inanimate objects fly through the air, as they did in Curse of the Starving Class and Buried Child and True West, but Ed Harris, the splendid actor who plays Eddie, certainly does. Stunt man indeed—he caroms off the walls and into the corners, chases Martin around the room, and ends up hardly the worse for wear. (At the preview I saw, Mr. Harris was wearing an inconsequential bandage around one hand, which impeded him not at all.) As May, Kathy Baker is just as good, though less athletic, and Dennis Ludlow and Will Marchetti are fine, too, as Martin and the Old Man. Mr. Shepard is the most deeply serious humorist of the American theatre, and a poet with no use whatever for the ‘‘poetic.’’ He brings fresh news of love, here and now, in all its potency and deviousness and foolishness, and of many other matters as well.

Source: Edith Oliver, review of Fool for Love in New York, Vol. LIX, no. 16, June 6, 1983, p. 110.

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