Fool For Love
Photographs contributed by Sharon
Click on pictures for larger view
Field report from the McCarter production
of FOOL FOR LOVE by Lin Ward, September 18 - 19, 1999
Saturday: September 18
This weekend I got to see FOOL FOR LOVE, and I loved it! The play was sexy, passionate, funny, searing... The entire cast was excellent, but James realized Eddie's character brilliantly! I keep remembering great little bits of business and body language, such as the lanky way he swung his legs as he walked, a moment when he eased slowly down into a chair, as if he'd been riding for 2,000 miles, and the time he screwed up his face, "like a little, bitty baby". At one point Eddie walks over to May and holds a tequila bottle between his hips. "You want some of this?" he offers. "I'm on the wagon", she replies. "Good, ‘bout time", he answers, stroking the bottle up and across her hips and breasts - whew! Then, later (after some of that tequila), while he's practicing roping, May accuses him of acting "just like a little kid", at which James squats down a little, and rotates his hips while swinging the rope over his head, just the way a six year would.
At the Saturday night show Cheryl earned the Friendship Valor award for offering me her opera glasses for the entire evening! This was a great boon, since all our seats were at the back of the balcony. So, I squinted one-eyed for an hour and a half, reveling in every nuance of the performance.
Beth, Bink and Sharon generously suggested that we join them after the show to try to meet James. I'm grateful that Sharon knew the etiquette, and sent a note back to him via the stage manager. James kindly agreed to meet us, even though he'd just been through two grueling performances. And, here's where the testifyin' begins - When James walked through the door, there's no question of who played the deer in the headlights! All I could see was a shimmering, silvery white light! Brothers and Sisters, he looked incredibly youthful, slender, muscular, handsome, and sexy, but with such a sweet smile. I expect to be hyperventilating for weeks!
Although he must have been extremely tired, he was gracious and patient in giving photos and autographs (thanks to Cheryl for bringing the Sharpees!), grinning all the while. I think we were all impressed with his quick draw on the baby photos, and Seamus is a beautiful little boy, although I couldn't get a bead on his personality from these close-ups - time will tell!
James suggested we ask Glenn Fleshler and Laila Robins for their autographs while they were there, and I dazedly realized that others had entered the room with him (but, I'm not good with glare <g>). Glen, who played a paunchy, geeky character in FFL, is trim, handsome, and self-possessed in person. I barely recognized Laila, looking elegant in black. She, too, was warm and charming as she autographed our programs.
I was too dazed to make conversation, but Beth and Bink chatted a bit with James. On the home front, Seamus' eyes have turned from newborn blue to green (sounds so pretty!). At work, he learned roping from an expert in L.A., as well as getting some tips from Sam Shepard himself when he visited rehearsals.
The stacks of programs and auction items duly autographed, we trooped out together, James patiently holding the door for us as we tottered out single file on jello legs. He questioned us closely to be sure we'd be safe getting to our cars, and was reassured to hear that we were all in the same nearby lot. What an extremely nice guy! Thank you, Lord, the sun has shown on me!
But seriously, friends, if you get a chance to see the play, DO, it's wonderful! Seeing James in such a different role is very satisfying, and meeting him in person is very special. But, remember to take your sunglasses!
Sunday: September 19
The big excitement at the Sunday matinee was that James accidentally knocked his rope against one of the low-hanging light bulbs of the set, spraying glass everywhere. Considering that Laila performs barefoot throughout most of the play, and that James spends a considerable amount of time tumbling, sitting, and rolling on the floor, the decision to stop the show for a meticulous clean up was very welcome. Before the stage manager cut in, James and Laila made heroic efforts to stay in character while picking up glass. Laila walked past James, and slapped him on the tush, heh, heh, one of those unexpected job perks!!! (Later, Ms. Mann said that this play is well known as a "very dangerous play to rehearse and to perform", and that Ellen Barkin had broken her arm playing May in another production. She said all the actors had a full warm-up before every rehearsal and every performance, and that they had a massage room backstage. This was the first time in her 25-years in theater that the show had been stopped, but it was an excellent decision, she felt.)
After the show, we went downstairs (got a chance to experience the front row!), for the director's dialogue. The panel consisted of a moderator from the McCarter, a journalist and Sam Shepard biographer (his name sounded like Don "Shooey" - don't know the spelling), and the artistic director, Emily Mann. As an old English major I was ready to analyze the heck out of the characters, but nobody else in the audience indicated any interest in this. Most of the questions pertained to the set (and the displaced front-row subscribers), but Ms. Mann deftly related these to character driven issues, so it turned out to be quite interesting despite the audience.
Ms. Mann decided to put the old man in the circle of characters, as a major figure, instead of isolated on his own little platform. I found this very effective. More of her comments: The old man is on the dream level, but whose dream is it? It's everyone's dream/nightmare - being left by the one you love. The play is supposed to convey shifting realities, dream space, love so deep it's in the blood. The way to understand Shepard's work is to feel it in your body, so the set is like a character in the play. It was important to feel the confinement of the situation, to help tap into that nightmarish trapped feeling.
Whenever Eddie and May are together, the old man is there. There's a porous membrane between the different realities that he passes through. On the other hand, we have the character of Martin, the outsider. Even Martin ends up as part of the dream/nightmare - he's always being abandoned, almost an abused child. At the end of the play, he's left alone again, and the old man poisons his life with the "fantasy is better than reality" message.
Although Eddie seems violent in the play, Ms. Mann and James had both agreed that while Eddie was capable of it, and May was scared, he would never lay a hand on her.
The walls of the set were a particular green, which Ms. Mann had seen in a photo from THE TAO OF SEXUAL DEPENDENCY. They looked for a month to find the right color that would reflect different colored lighting with each emotional change or dream state. While she was researching, she found the picture in the sexual dependency book that looked almost exactly the way Shepard had described his set. The proscenium of the stage was extended, because this play just couldn’t be done at such a distance from the audience. The width of the stage gives a sense of both the claustrophobia and the gulf between Eddie and May. Sam Shepard hated the movie version of this story, because it lost the sense of being closed in. He felt when they opened up the environment, they lost the tension.
You may have read in some of the reviews that this is a very musical, rhythmic play, a cross between dancing and fighting. My friend Cheryl had observed that the cast wasn't afraid to emphasize their lines by slowing down at the appropriate times. During the dialogue, Ms. Mann explained that the mics on the slamming doors were intended to be part of this torturous music, the sound of your lover walking out of your life, repeated over and over. While I appreciated the cadence of the dialogue, I hadn't understood the reverberating slams, so I was glad to hear that explained.
In closing, someone asked how it was to direct this cast, and Ms. Mann replied that "this is a dream group of brilliant, brilliant actors, and one of the happiest directing experiences I've ever had".
And, pretty obviously, one of the happiest theater experiences of my life, as well. Surely hope you can all make it to at least one performance of this terrific show crafted by a wonderful staff and cast.
Field Report by: Beth Martin
After the 8:30 PM performance of "Fool for Love," the house manager took Bink Vollmer; Sharon Worcester; Lynn Ward; her intrepid friend, Cheryl; and me downstairs to the McCarter Theater reception area to see James. He was the first of the actors to come out and, upon seeing Bink, knew we were JMDG members. He immediately came over to thank us for coming and for introductions.
Bink asked about Seamus. With a well-practiced hand, James whipped out his wallet to show us a picture. Someone asked if it was one of those wallets where a cascade of baby pictures would come tumbling out. James laughed and said "No," and then proceeded to slip out another picture of his son. Seamus Morrison is adorable, alert, happy, and personable in his photos. James told us that Seamus now has green eyes.
Cheryl asked if he minded having his photo taken. "Of course not," James replied, and immediately began posing. I had seen James before and knew that the screen makes him appear taller and heavier. When I last saw him (last year in Salt Lake City), I would have described him as "lean." This time, dressed as he was in faded jeans and a light blue cotton-knit, pullover shirt, I would have to describe him as very thin.
After the impromptu picture-taking session, we took out our programs for autographs. Ballpoint pens did not work well on the glossy paper. What we needed was a marker. As James walked to the reception desk to look for one, Lynn produced a marker. James was quite willing to sign multiple programs. As he autographed our programs, he suggested asking two of the other actors to sign the programs earmarked for the charity auctions at our Salt Lake City gathering (scheduled for later that week). They graciously responded to Bink's request.
Someone commented about the physical nature of the part, which included fight scenes, hitting walls, and a somersault over the bed. With a disarming smile, James nodded and said, "Yes, I'm black and blue, but I loved it".
While waiting in the reception area, I read some of the newspaper interviews that his co-star, Laila Robbins, had given. During rehearsals, the actors worn padding but, since Laila's costume is a tight, short, red slip dress, she had to do without the knee and arm pads. According to one interview, she said she missed them quite a bit. James, on the other hand, who wore jeans and a long-sleeved plaid shirt, had on back and shoulder pads for the entire performance.
During the play, James' character, Eddie, spends some time roping the bedposts. James told us that he had someone in Los Angeles teach him how. He added that "Sam" (Sam Sheppard, who had spent some time working on the production), showed him some things. From the tone of his voice, it was obvious that, although James was trying to be casual about the whole thing, he thought it was exciting to be able to "hang out" with Sam.
In all too short a time, we had to leave. James thanked us again for coming and went out the door with several other actors--our group followed. Outside, James stopped and asked us where we were parked. When he was assured that we would be together and that no one would be walking alone, James said good night.
To me, one of the most interesting things about seeing James after the performance was the difference in his presence. Twenty minutes before he was on stage as Eddie, a total physical presence: solid; loud; coiled tension, energy and emotion; using his body and his fists to express frustration, anger, confusion, and love. Off stage, however, James was soft-spoken, a bit distracted--almost frail--and obviously tired. His part is emotionally and physically challenging. I was thrilled that James would take the time to meet with us after such a demanding performance.