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Love, Fight, Repeat

Date: Sep 30, 2015

How director Daniel Aukin keeps the dance of dysfunction moving in Fool for Love


The volatile couple at the center of Sam Shepard's explosive 1984 drama Fool for Love may be ill-fated, but good mojo helped fuel the play's current revival at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. When the production originated at the 2014 Williamstown Theatre Festival, Chris Pine and Lauren Ambrose were announced as the star-crossed lovers, Eddie and May. But when they had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, director Daniel Aukin immediately thought of two actors he had long admired as last-minute replacements: Sam Rockwell and Tony winner Nina Arianda.

"I was a huge fan of Nina's, and I had done a workshop with Sam a few years prior, and we had even talked about Fool for Love as something we both would like to do someday," says Aukin, an in-demand Off-Broadway director for two decades who's making his Main Stem debut with Fool for Love. "Luckily, they both loved the play and were available," and a month later the show opened to rapturous reviews.

But a Broadway transfer still wasn't inevitable. "There are no sure things," Aukin says. "But we had hoped we'd get a chance to do it again. We're really lucky Manhattan Theatre Club wanted to do it."

Save for recasting the role of Martin --- May's clueless date who walks in on her epic lovers' quarrel with Eddie in a low-rent, Mojave Desert motel room --- the show's ensemble and design team are the same as in Williamstown. However, the Broadway mounting isn't a precise copy. Shepard (who was unable to see the Williamstown production) was involved in the rehearsal process, giving feedback and adding a few lines. And Aukin and his collaborators took the opportunity to reexamine some of their artistic choices. "We've done quite a lot of new work on the ending with sound and lights," Aukin says. Although they started with the cues from Williamstown, "it was quite startling how often we said, 'Why did we do that?!' In spirit, the approach is the same, but you get into a new room and the dimensions are different and you're different and your understanding of the play has changed. It's such a domino effect. Plus the show isn't the same every night, and it can't be. It's a moving target and it would be terrifying if the actors did the exact same thing every performance. It's a living, breathing thing."


One small but striking modification is the deafening and unsettling electrical hum that now opens and closes the show. In Williamstown it was only employed at the beginning. Adding it at the end makes the action of the tense, 75-minute production feel unfinished, like the cycle of love and violence is destined to repeat. You get the sense that Eddie and May will live to fight another day. After all, it's what they've been doing the entire show.

"In some ways it feels like the play keeps restarting over and over and over again," Aukin says. "These two people are locked in a struggle, and they reach these dead ends but eventually find ways to reengage. It makes me think of Boléro, that kind of repetition. One of the big challenges was finding ways for that to have a forward momentum and not feel like we were repeating the same thing over and over, even though in some ways they are."

Once Martin (played by Tom Pelphrey) enters the scene, the dynamic evolves. "I think he's our man on the ground," Aukin explains. "He's as close as the audience gets to a stand-in for ourselves, and it's a completely new energy. He has no idea what he's walked into."

And neither do we. Toward the end of the show there's a bombshell that recasts everything that has come before. For people unfamiliar with the play, it's quite a revelation, and Aukin hopes he gets some newbies in the audience. "It can be harder for people who know the show," he says. "I've noticed with a lot of people who saw Ed Harris and Kathy Baker Off-Broadway, such an important production, it's intense for some of them to come back to it."


TDF MEMBERS: We've recently offered discounted tickets for this show. Click here to see all the available member discounts.

Raven Snook is the associate editor of TDF Stages

Photos by Joan Marcus. Top image: Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda in Fool for Love.