Love So Good Itll Kill You

Any rebellious stage company must eventually tackle the patron saint of subversive theater, Sam Shepard. Idolized by young theater types, Shepard blends American archetypes—cowboys, drifters and outlaws—with a particularly rock & roll style of writing.

With Fool for Love,the Hunger Artists Theatre Company turns its attention to Shepard, which begs a question: Can any production really say anything new about a play that is done so often? When that company is good, when the acting is visceral and the intensity tangible, the answer is a resounding yes.

Fool for Love concerns star-crossed lovers May and Eddie, who hash out their past, present and possible future in a seedy motel on the outskirts of the Mojave. May is a waitress living out of a suitcase; Eddie is a self-declared movie stunt man, disappearing for months at a time just like his Daddy. Or rather, her Daddy. Or, rather, go see it for yourself.

Drawing on both naturalistic and symbolist styles, Shepard's play is a textbook of theatrical devices and vices. The haunting presence of the Old Man brings an eerie tone to the proceedings, which are enlivened by brutal fight scenes between the hyper May and a drunk. The toxic elements are mixed with a caustic but honest depiction of falling in and out of love—and it raises a question: Can any of us ever really love somebody?

The Hunger Artists tackle the drama with gusto, grinding a distinctive edge onto the already jagged script. If director Dax Kiger's staging occasionally relies too much on door slamming, wall banging and vocal-cord straining, the building intensity is undeniably effective, particularly in the tiny space the Hunger Artists call home.

Kiger's direction works best when he lets his actors explore the shades of pain that Shepard so deftly paints. As the play's leads, Hunger Artist veterans Kimberly Fisher and Mark Coyan are brilliant. They achieve a tragic momentum that makes May and Eddie's conflicts and desires fluid and unavoidable. Magnified by the small space, the intensity sometimes makes it seem that the audience has accidentally intruded on an actual man and woman in the throes of passion and confusion.

Eric Zudac's Old Man and Marcos Flores' Martin, the meek wannabe boyfriend who forces a final showdown between the foolish lovers, also deliver memorable performances.

It's an unyielding and fervent look at a modern classic, missing only an audience: at the Sunday performance I attended, the audience barely outnumbered the cast of four. At a mere $10 (with a reservation), this production delivers more theater bang for your dollar than almost anything else out there. If there's a small theater production worth supporting, it's this one.

Fool for Love at The Hunger Artists Theater, 204 E. 4th St., Santa Ana, (714) 547-9100. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. Through Feb. 4. $10 with a reservation.

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