The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to 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.”

As Eddie lies on the floor, crumpled in pain, the lights come up on the Old Man, who has been sitting all along in the rocker. As the stage directions point out, “even though they might talk to him directly and acknowledge his physical presence,” the Old Man “exists only in the minds of May and Eddie.” When he speaks, he interjects a confusing element of incongruity into the play; he points to a nonexistent picture of singer Barbara Mandrell and informs Eddie that he is, as he puts it, “actually married to Barbara Mandrell in my mind.”

May reenters, preparing for a date. She changes onstage into a “sleek red dress,” transforming “her former tough drabness into a very sexy woman.” Eddie now betrays his own sexual jealousy; he exits suddenly and violently, slamming doors behind him, only to return with a shotgun. When she tells Eddie that he has “no right being jealous,” Eddie hints at something deeper and darker, a pact, a connection “decided long ago.” Thoroughly disturbed, she tells Eddie to leave; he exits, yet his departure only upsets her more.

The Old Man now speaks to May of her childhood and, in the process, reveals himself to be her father. May, however, does not listen. Too “involved with her emotion of loss,” she moves slowly around the room, pressing herself against the walls....

(The entire section is 1150 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Comprehensive Guide to 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...

(The entire section is 583 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Mojave Desert

*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. He has plans to move their trailer to a ranch there. The theme of the American West is displayed as May rejects Eddie’s offer just as she rejects his “Marlboro” man lifestyle as a rodeo cowboy and stuntman. Nevertheless, Eddie dreams of the cowboy life as he cleans his gun, dons metal spurs, and coils his lassos performing rope tricks to entice May.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Kim Basinger as May Published by Gale Cengage

In 1983, the United States was a country of contradictions. Its president was Republican Ronald Reagan, who served a total of two terms with...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Fool for Love takes place in a motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert in California. All the...

(The entire section is 620 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1983: Cellular phone service is tested in Chicago. The bulky phones cost $3000, while monthly service fees total about $150....

(The entire section is 192 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Explore the themes of Fool for Love via the two pieces of music called for in the stage directions, Merle Haggard’s...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Fool for Love was adapted by Shepard for the screen in 1985. Directed by Robert Altman, the film features Shepard playing the...

(The entire section is 29 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

True West, a play by Shepard that was first produced in 1980. This play also concerns troubled siblings (two...

(The entire section is 154 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Brustein, Robert. Review of Fool for Love in the New Republic, June 27, 1983, pp....

(The entire section is 280 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations 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...

(The entire section is 297 words.)