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Fool for Love: Theater review by David Cote
Since her star-making turn in 2010’s Venus in Fur, Nina Arianda has established a reputation for being irresistibly sexy on stage. Emotional intensity and comic agility only burnish her palpable charisma, leading critics (present one included) to gush about her hotness factor.
So it’s a welcome shock to see the actor stripped of all that allure in the opening tableau of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, in which Arianda plays bucking bronco to Sam Rockwell’s dusty cowpoke. Slumped on a motel bed in unflattering, baggy clothes, head slung low, this is Arianda as a broken doll, as trashed as the grubby room around her. She may spring to life with a furious attack and eventually pour herself into a little red number, but Arianda’s May is not the glamour puss one expects.
Just as surprising is Rockwell’s Eddie, the horse rancher who drives, by his estimation, 2,480 miles to drag May back to the “tin trailer” she fled in a jealous fury. Rockwell has always been a dependable stage trouper for writers as diverse as Stephen Adly Guirgis and Martin McDonagh. But here he seems to dig deep into painful places for Eddie, a tight-lipped fellow whose leathery exterior hides a frightened boy. Rockwell’s lasso skills are nothing to sneeze at, either; he snares a bedpost, a chair and plenty more.
Debuted Off Broadway in 1983, Fool for Love is an existential-screwball vamp that takes a stomach-churning turn, hearkening back to Shepard’s early experimental work more than his “realist” phase (Buried Child and True West). As always, the author is sorting through the ruins of the West, trying to piece it back together as Eddie and May try to reconnect their busted selves.
Daniel Aukin’s painterly diorama production benefits from key support from a fine Tom Pelphrey as May’s bemused beau and Gordon Joseph Weiss as a spectral old-timer who may have fathered both fractious lovers (there’s a whisper of Greek tragedy amid the tumbleweeds). But it’s Rockwell and Arianda who really strike the sparks, blow on the embers and get the fire raging.
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Broadway). By Sam Shepard. Directed by Daniel Aukin. With Nina Arianda, Sam Rockwell, Gordon Joseph Weiss, Tom Pelphrey. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.
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