Sam Shepard's one-act play "Fool for Love" runs just about an hour, which may be just as well. It is a pretty intense 60 minutes of theater.
The play originated at San Francisco's Magic Theater in 1983, then moved to New York. Its off-Broadway production, directed by the playwright, won an Obie.
The production, running tonight through Sunday at Ventura College, makes the most of the play's intensity, thanks to direction by the theater department's head, Jay Varela, an atmospheric set, particularly notable costumes and makeup, and--especially--some of the best acting seen in Ventura County in some time.
Set somewhere in Shepard's Southwest, "Fool for Love" tells the story of short-order cook May and rodeo cowboy Eddie. He's a heel; she can't live with him and can't live without him. But there's something about their relationship that keeps bringing them back together.
Commenting on the story, mainly from the side of the stage, is an old coot who exists, the program notes somewhat misleadingly explain, only in the minds of Eddie and May. The fourth character, Martin, is a local square who has taken a shine to May and who is about to meet Eddie.
What ensues is occasionally funny but isn't pretty. You'll be glad not to know Eddie or May any better than you do. They are both losers.
James Braddock and Jennifer Eaton are magnificent as Eddie and May, even in Sunday's matinee performance, a time when lesser actors might coast a bit. He looks and acts as though he has spent the better part of his life roping calves at county fairs and, if he's lucky, coming in third. She looks suitably trashy and says more in a long pause than many actresses can in pages of dialogue. Both delivered their lines with perception and assurance.
Also submerged in his character is Steven Osburn as the Old Man, a congenital drunk who holds the key to Eddie and May's darkest secret.
As the understandably bewildered Martin, John Medeiros acts mainly as a prod to the other characters and does so well enough to show the audience that he is too nice to ever appeal to May.
Set design is by Willy Eck. He and the construction crew of Jasen Barrett, Lisa Berntsen, Amy Fournier and Karen Villeneuve seem to know a cheap Southwestern motel room when they build one. The chenille bedspread--props by Christina Vargas--is a perfect touch.
The costumes are perfect, from May's bargain-store slip to the brilliant touch of having Eddie's boots patched with gaffer's tape. Credit designer Abra Flores and the team of Anne Renne Roundy, Susie Kjelberg, Karen Carmichael and Caine Wade. Edwin Barron and Mark Lucke's makeup work is particularly impressive on Old Man Osburn, who looks as though he's on an endless bender and was rolled in mud just before taking the stage.
* WHERE AND WHEN
"Fool for Love" continues tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m. and concludes Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Understudy Brenda Kenworthy is scheduled to portray May tonight only. The Ventura College theater is on Loma Vista Road, just west of Day Road. Tickets are $5, $3 for students, seniors and staff, or $2 if you book a group in advance. For reservations or further information, call (805) 654-6459.