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STAGE REVIEW

Tough lives, rough love

Stacy Fischer and Timothy John Smith portray May and Eddie, lovers engaging in psychic battles, in Sam Shepard's one-act play. Stacy Fischer and Timothy John Smith portray May and Eddie, lovers engaging in psychic battles, in Sam Shepard's one-act play. (Christopher mckenzie)
By Louise Kennedy
Globe Staff / March 19, 2009
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WATERTOWN - A seedy motel on the edge of a desert. A bottle of tequila. Saddle, lasso, spurs.

Yeah, we're in Shepardville, all right - Sam Shepardville, that is. And along with the familiar props of the playwright's desolate post-cowboy West come the familiar elements of his drama: messed-up families, ugly fights, and nastily obsessive love.

Shepardville is not a nice place to visit, and I certainly wouldn't want to live there. If you're going to go, though, director Bridget Kathleen O'Leary is a worthy and persuasive guide.

With claustrophobic care, O'Leary's production of "Fool for Love" transforms the black-box theater of New Repertory Theatre's Downstage @ New Rep into a grimy, grotty pit of a motel room, then lets the characters loose in this cage: Eddie, a broken-down rodeo cowboy; May, his on-again-off-again girlfriend (and possibly his half-sister); Martin, the hapless young man who interrupts their latest battle/tryst to take May to the movies; and the enigmatic Old Man, who may or may not be Eddie and May's father and may or may not exist outside their own minds.

Ada E. Smith's set (filthy curtains, filthier walls), Christopher Brusberg's lighting (dim, with flashes of neon from outside), and Matt Griffin's sound design (heavy on twanging western ballads and lonely truck horns in the night) all contribute to the oppressive mood. But it's the tight, and tightly orchestrat ed, struggle for control between Eddie and May that really makes us feel trapped here with them.

Timothy John Smith and Stacy Fischer work the shifting tensions and revelations of this relationship as grimly and professionally as cowpokes at a rodeo; they buck and wrangle, but never completely throw each other off. Andrew Dufresne's Martin is mostly reduced to the role of hapless spectator (a stand-in for the audience, perhaps), while Joseph Finneral starts out similarly removed as the Old Man but eventually gets drawn into the psychic battles of the two lovers.

All this is ugly, repetitive, and mean - or, if you're more of a Shepard fan than I am, raw, poetic, and real. It begins abruptly and ends inconclusively, with plenty of verbal abuse, physical assault, and an offstage horse-trailer fire in between.

The bad news for Shepard devotees is that this 1983 one-act does not develop its themes and relationships as richly as his more fully realized works; it's only about 90 minutes long. For the rest of us, that may be the good news.

Either way, it's a quick trip to Shepardville, in good and trustworthy hands, with people who clearly know the territory well.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at kennedy@globe.com.

FOOL FOR LOVE Play by Sam Shepard

Directed by: Bridget Kathleen O'Leary. Set, Ada E. Smith. Costumes, Eric Propp. Lights, Christopher Brusberg. Sound, Matt Griffin. Fight direction, Meron Langsner. Presented by New Repertory Theatre.

At: Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown, through April 5. Tickets: $25. 617-923-8487, www.newrep.org

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