Felons and Fools

Although scouts from a number of the nation's top regional theaters are reportedly flying down to check out this premiere for possible future productions, only a major rewrite can save When Cuba Opens Up from swift closings.

Don't be misled by the country songs lamenting love gone wrong that waft over the sound system at the start of Sam Shepard's Fool for Love. His Obie Award-winning 1983 drama is really a jazz fugue that forgoes linear structure in favor of dizzying variations on the theme of love. Fort Lauderdale's CounterForce Actor's Studio gamely tackles Shepard's riffs in its inaugural production, but the company lacks sufficient virtuosity to cover the play's startling range and to deliver its electrifying high notes.

Running a little more than an hour with no intermission, Fool for Love opens in a motel room on the edge of California's Mojave Desert. That's where Eddie (Vincent Scotto) has tracked his on-again/off-again girlfriend May (Tanya Bravo) after she fled their trailer-park love nest during one of Eddie's frequent long absences. Consumed with passion since they were teenagers, the couple has spent fifteen years fighting their powerful attraction to each other, all the while knowing that a secret from their past will keep them apart forever.

An old man (John Saracco) watches their struggles from his rocking chair on the side of the stage, downing liquor he pours from a bottle wrapped in a paper bag. Sharing deep ties with the two, he exists only in their memories, commenting on the action and engaging each in conversations the other can't hear. Weary and shell-shocked from their emotional war, the couple spill out their scandalous history to the bewildered and mild-mannered Martin (Steven Bockus), who arrives for what turns out to be a very ill-timed date with May.

One of Shepard's more accessible works -- although it still provides a few of his challenging enigmatic touches -- Fool for Love is a minor gem crafted to portray love's many faces: sexual, familial, blooming, possessive, seductive, destructive, nurturing, and, above all, everlasting. Carrying off Shepard's demanding drama is a tall order for a new company; in fact, Shepard chose to direct the work's off-Broadway premiere himself.

Under dialect coach Lee Dombrowski's tutelage, Bravo and Scotto impressively maintain Southwest accents, but they pay more attention to speaking Shepard's rhythmic dialogue authentically than to capturing its sexual tension. Saracco gives a well-rounded performance as the old man, mastering the character's feigned impartiality, which, ultimately, gives way to an overriding concern that his side of the story be represented. Daniel Chernau's direction ably weaves the old man into the main action, but Chernau follows a logical, straightforward tack that obliterates the play's surreal mood and quirky humor. Although a gallant first attempt, the CounterForce Actor's Studio's Fool for Love is a little too one-note to capture the beauty of Shepard's sensuous improvisations.

When Cuba Opens Up.
Written by Benjie Aerenson; directed by Bill Hart; with Burt Young, Greg Zittel, Leo Marks, and Steve Wise. Through June 21. For more information call 445-1119 or see "Calendar Listings."

Fool For Love.
Written by Sam Shepard; directed by Daniel Chernau; with Tanya Bravo, Vincent Scotto, John Saracco, and Steven Bockus. Through June 15. For more information call 576-4146 or see "Calendar Listings.

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