So we were at Astro Burger up in Hollywood the other night—you know, the place where all the hookers supposedly hang out—and we got to see a play. Well, it wasn't really a play. It was more like a strung-out red-eyed hooker girl screeching at arena-rock volume into a pay phone, punctuating an admirably varied string of obscenities with such gems as "I'll see you in hell with meeeeeeeee, baby!" But we all still clapped at the end, appreciating the sheer intensity of the performance. And when we saw this Vanguard Theater Ensemble production of Fool for Love, we couldn't help but think of that screaming hooker.
As directed by Deidre Schoo, Sam Shepard's Fool for Love has the same punishing intensity of those late-night pay-phone declamations, but it also suffers from some of the same flaws: between all the shrieking and tooth grinding and soul searching, there's not much time to catch your breath and appreciate the subtleties. Maybe that's intentional—though it's just under an hour, Fool for Love feels like a much longer and denser play, thanks to paint-peeling performances by leads John Strain (Eddie) and Jeanne LaSala (May)—but it's also a bit draining. Like music, drama demands an understanding of dynamics, and your better musicians understand that the best way to make something loud seem louder is to contrast it with plenty of quiet. This Fool for Love is a whole lotta loud all the way through.
As the play develops, however, it does settle down a bit, thanks to the appearance of Todd Fuessel as hand-wringing foil Martin. Combat-ready couple Eddie and Mae are as combustible as Drano and gasoline, and they do well with a little tepid water thrown into the mix. Further balanced by George Pelham's braying old man, this Fool for Lovehits its stride somewhere in the second half-hour when the decibel level drops and the actors resort to something besides exclamation points to transmit their characters.
As Eddie says—while sprawled out on the floor—things are a lot less tense once you sit yourself down on the ground. And we think that screaming hooker at Astro Burger would agree.
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Fool for Love at Vanguard Theatre Ensemble, 699 State College Blvd., Ste. A, Fullerton, (714) 526-8007. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through Feb. 9. $15; students/seniors, $13; $5 rush tickets available.