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FOOL FOR LOVE at American Rep’s new home, 545 Elmwood, continues their tradition of edgy, contemporary, American plays and musicals.

THE BASICS: FOOL FOR LOVE, a drama by Sam Shepard presented by American Repertory Theater of WNY, directed by Kelli Bocock-Natale opened on November 1 and runs through November 17, Thursday through Saturday at 8, plus Sunday November 11 at 7 at the old TheatreLoft, 545 Elmwood Avenue (between Utica and Anderson) (983-4345). www.artofwny.org  Runtime: 85 minutes without intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  We meet May (Candace Kogut) in a run-down desert motel as her former boyfriend, Eddie (Eric Rawski), a has-been rodeo rider, shows up trying to convince her to leave her low-end job, come back to him, and live in a trailer on a farm in Wyoming with horses, and chickens, and a vegetable patch. “I HATE chickens” says May, who is physically attracted to Eddie, but knows that he and his dream are no good for her. Throughout the play the somewhat enigmatic character of The Old Man (Steve Jakiel) talks individually to Eddie and later to May (although nobody else can hear the conversations). The constant threat of violence hangs in the air and becomes more palpable when May’s “date” Martin (Nick Lama) shows up.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Tall, lanky Eric Rawski presented as a very believable rodeo rider and moved gracefully around the stage, but where he excelled was in creating a sense of latent physical violence. Candace Kogut moved nicely between attraction and opposition, moving in and then recoiling, constantly in flux. And Nick Lama did his job well, which was mostly to try to keep things calm in the small motel room.

But the stand-out, often just barely visible, was Steve Jakiel as “The Old Man.” As mentioned many times in these reviews, the mark of a great actor is to stay completely engaged, even when their character has no lines to speak. For most of the play, his character literally sits “above the action” as if a voice from the other world. But when Jakiel finally walks on stage, into the motel room, the whole suddenly becomes greater than the sum of its parts. When you go, spend some quality time watching Jakiel’s face as May and Eddie “go at it.”

Director Bocock-Natale makes good use of the stage, which, while potentially much wider than you’d expect in a smaller theater, here was narrowed down by Matthew LaChiusa’s set design, adding to that claustrophobic “motel from hell” vibe.

Kudos too, to Kelli G. Natale for the costumes including a few exquisite details that spoke volumes about the characters – the duct tape holding one of Eddie’s cowboy boots together along with his rolled up “rodeo style” straw hat, as well as the tobacco juice stains on the front of The Old Man’s undershirt.

John Shotwell did an excellent job with recreating action outside of the motel room with lights and sound effects that were quite believable.

John Shotwell did an excellent job with recreating action outside of the motel room with lights and sound effects that were quite believable.

Upon arrival at the theater on opening night we were met at the first-floor ticket alcove by Matthew Lachiusa, the Executive Director of ART of WNY, who started the company twelve years ago. ART has moved often, but now has a long-term lease in a theater space that not only has a great history but potential to revive its former glory. Lachiusa was ebullient in his praise of landlord and big Buffalo renaissance booster Nick Sinatra who has repaired the leaky roof, got the elevator operational (the stage is on the second floor) and initiated a number of smaller fixes.

Sometimes revitalization of the downtown area means that smaller arts organizations can get squeezed out, as was the case with ART when the church they occupied was converted to housing several years ago. That shouldn’t be a problem here for some time.

People who are into Sam Shephard plays talk about a “quintet” starting with the so-called “Family Trilogy”: CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS (1977), BURIED CHILD (1979), and TRUE WEST (1980) concluding with FOOL FOR LOVE (1983) and A LIE OF THE MIND (1985). Shepherd’s themes include a not-all-that-romantic West, people living on the edge of town and certainly on the edge of society, family misunderstandings and dysfunction, an alcoholic or otherwise mis-behaving father, nascent violence, and very unhappy people searching for some redemption.

Writing a plot summary is difficult because the best parts of Sam Shepherd’s plays would have to preceded by “SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT!” So, my best advice is to go see the play.

UP NEXT: Here’s a trivia question: Who wrote “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?” Well, it was Patrick Quentin, and it comes from the movie and later musical, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, which ART will be presenting as a live radio play, December 14 through 22.

Images: Katherine Butler

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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