The Shepard touchstones are in place, though only intermittently the play itself, in the new Donmar Warehouse production of “Fool For Love,” in which some able actors make a lot of sound without ever quite signaling their fury. Those new to Shepard’s annihilating play think of it as pumped-up Pinter may be impressed by the sight of an Anglo-Irish cast letting down its guard, and then some. Others, I suspect, will tire of an evening that trades on the expected Shepard cliches composer Philippe Dupuy’s Ry Cooder-style music included without locating the heart geating ferociously beyond all the noise.
If anything, director Ian Brown’s staging is volatile with a vengeance, beginning with the sonic boom of slamming doors (sound designer: John A. Leonard) and Howard Harrison’s rather self-consciously busy lighting. There is no threat here of the play devolving into the Wild West comedy of manners that it often seemed in its British premiere, with Ian Charleson and Julie Walters, at the National Theater 12 years ago.
Reunited in a motel by the side of the Mojave Desert are Eddie (Barry Lynch), a stunt man better at lassoing bedposts than women, and his “yo-yo” of some 15 years, May (Lorraine Ashbourne), a keen-eyed cook with a feral way about her.
Commenting from atop Robin Don’s Edward Hopper-esque set is the Old Man (Gawn Grainger), who enters the young couple’s bedroom with the shadowy ease of a dream to fill us in on a sad family history from which no one has emerged unscarred.
Eddie and May, we discover, are more than former lovers; they are siblings ensnared in the stuff of nightmare. The arrival of May’s boyfriend Martin (Martin Marquez) threatens to turn the central coupling into a fiery menage a trois, with Eddie joking that he will make “a fig” out of May’s “ordinary date.”
But Shepard depicts instead a consumptive love building toward conflagration in which entry into the realm of incestuous passion brings with it the risk of elimination. “You’re gonna erase me,” May says early on; and so Eddie just might.
The play is a gift for two fearless leads, and one could never accuse the fiercely talented Ashbourne Jocasta in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent “Phoenician Women” of taking the timid way out. But the actress is so busy screaming, bleating and generally strutting her bravado that she seems unwilling to tackle the role at anything less than top volume; both she and May need room to breathe. The lightly built Lynch Puck in the RSC’s American tour earlier this year of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is more persuasive, even if he, too, has the bodily swagger without the full ballast to go with it. (His eyes, intriguingly, betray a panic Eddie’s body language wants always to forestall.) Whether he embodies the transposition to the American West of some archetypal myths remains up for grabs, or maybe it’s just that a less mannered staging would leave an audience too bruised to ponder things like archetypes.