Saturday, December 27, 2014


The power of Sam Shepard's language and imagery in "Fool for Love" makes up for a lot of rough road, says critic Wendy Rosenfield, and Iron Age Theatre's team meets it at least halfway.


By Wendy Rosenfield

Despite its backdrop of paved-over western mythology, Sam Shepard's Fool for Love is a rather intimate play for Iron Age Theatre. Though no strangers to Shepard's work -- they've produced The Tooth of Crime, Curse of the Starving Class, and Simpatico -- they're far more likely to take on work about labor issues, racism, or colonialism, and sometimes all at once.

But this, a bitterly comic drama that takes place in a motel room, with a fire-breathing love affair as its engine, is awfully close up for a company that favors the wide angle. With Shepard, the devil's in the details. It's Eddie, lassoing a metal chair and yanking it back with a smirk of juvenile satisfaction, or May, allowing her weary body to yield in Eddie's arms for just one brief, indulgent second before delivering a knee to his tarnished family jewels.

Those moments -- courtesy of Michelle Pauls' scrappy, dishwater-blonde May, and Adam Altman's thick-limbed, luggish Eddie -- work in this production, directed by Randall Wise and John Doyle. There are more, too, offered up by other characters. Sean Close's lanky, shaggy-haired Martin, a decent fellow thrust into the middle of an indecent situation, keeps his head tucked down and tries not to meet anyone's eyes - a hound dog who wandered into a wolf's den. Dave Fiebert's weather-beaten Old Man looks like a wood carving of a western archetype -- the drifter -- threadbare in a rocking chair, speaking on behalf of absent fathers and the self-deluded, and chuckling and chiming in, bemused, like a spectator at a human rodeo. (But please, take him out of his character-defying Birkenstock sandals and put him into a pair of boots, or moccasins, or anything else. )

Moments, however, need to connect and build, especially when you're dealing with family secrets and heartache as raw as May's. "I get sick every time you come around, and I get sick every time you leave," she tells Eddie. "You're like a disease to me. " But neither character seems to have the upper hand here. Worse, Pauls and Altman fight just fine, yet we never see the fire beneath their smoke. And without a bonfire-sized passion fueling it, what's the point of all that yearning?

This more egalitarian take on Shepard cuts some of the mileage out of Eddie and May's relationship, and I miss Eddie's coiled-up menace, the throbbing beneath May's old wounds. Still, the power of the play's language and imagery makes up for a lot of rough road, and Iron Age's team meets it at least halfway.


Presented by Iron Age Theatre at the Centre Theater, 208 DeKalb St., Norristown, through March 25. Tickets: $20. Information: 610-279-1013 or

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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