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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Truncated 'Fool' Missteps

The first words of Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love" are written in boldface italics much larger than the rest of the text. They almost shout: "This play is to be performed relentlessly without a break."

Shepard knew what he was doing. He wrote a play about forbidden love, about the sexual and spiritual bond between a young man and his half-sister. But "the forbidden" is not what's crucial - that's just a label to hang on the predicament. Shepard was after a no-exit situation, a pressure cooker that would incinerate his characters to a white heat. The play carries its message on the sparks and flames of intensity.

Dmitry Troyanovsky's production of "Fool for Love" at the Pushkin Theater affiliate misses all of this and more. For reasons incomprehensible to me, Troyanovsky, who is a student at Harvard University's theater institute, took this brief play and shortened it further. Then, he altered the end, among other things cutting out the fire and horses running wild that are the eloquent symbol of everything that has come before.

As if that were not enough, this production steers so clear of Shepard's humor that only a handful of instances evoke stifled snickers. It is precisely Shepard's wicked wit that is intended to ignite and launch the fireworks that simultaneously burn and soothe the luckless lovers, Eddie and May.

What surprised me most in this hapless production, however, was that it was not a total loss. Perhaps it is the sign of a great play shining through against all odds, or perhaps it is the conviction of a company that is willing to risk falling flat on its face - but despite the countless errors of omission and commission, I enjoyed portions of this "Fool for Love."

Designer Valery Fomin provided an effective sterile road-motel interior with a cot, a chair and a cheap cupboard. At the sides, beyond a rope barrier, a few scattered rocks indicate we are in the desert. The soul of this set is the semi-transparent backdrop, which, depending upon lighting changes, provides views of varying clarity of the Old Man, the wayward father to both Eddie and May.

Romuald Vildan is well cast as the crusty codger who was too weak - or, perhaps, too sensitive - to walk away from love, thus finding himself in the position of having two parallel families. His role is both to provide insights and to muddy the water in this story of a young couple who became lovers before realizing they were siblings.

It is primarily through the Old Man that we see how memory, fear and desire pervert the truth and how our passions are cradled in the loving embrace of those distortions. Shepard's Old Man is a specter, a figment of May's and Eddie's imaginations, who, nonetheless, has a very real grip on the reality of their lives.

Vildan brings to the role the right leathery, sandy feel. There is something final and incontrovertible about his Old Man, a kind of broken-down god who may have lost his power, but not his sway over his offspring.

Things are thinner as concerns Alexei Guskov's Eddie and Yelena Novikova's May. Instead of being captives in a white-hot, irresolvable dilemma, they earnestly trace the contours of a - pardon my pun - mellow drama.

Shepard reached for the heights of Greek tragedy. Of course, in our faithless, godless and cynical world, he could not create anything as pure as Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex," where the son kills his father, marries his mother and loses his sight, sanity and kingdom. "Fool for Love" is supremely contemporary in that it only goes halfway: Eddie and May are incestuous, but they are only half-brother and sister. Still, the play's mythological basis - its positioning of people in the path of immutable tragedy - tangibly revives the wrath of the ancients in a modern context.

Eddie and May at the Pushkin are merely people with a problem. They whine a bit, plead a bit, sometimes get mad. They have none of the fury, rigidity or righteousness of individuals with their backs to the wall.

As for Andrei Sukhov's Martin, May's clueless suitor who enters this truncated American tragedy as if from a vaudeville show, nobody seems to have explained to him that comedy requires no less precision than tragedy.

Troyanovsky's cuts in the text - sometimes short exchanges, sometimes entire scenes - not only cripple the play, they indicate he failed to understand what he was staging. He mutilated the finale, replacing the cathartic, symbolic explosion and burning of Eddie's pickup and horse trailer with an inane scene of Martin and May going to the movies to watch lovers kiss on screen.

I may be too critical because I love this play so much. Or, perhaps, that makes me too tolerant.

Whatever, I found this production's myriad misfires infuriating, while I stubbornly appreciated its rare successes.

"Fool for Love" (Bezumiye lyubvi) plays Feb. 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. at the Pushkin Drama Theater affiliate, 3/25 Sytinsky Pereulok. Metro Pushkinskaya. Tel. 209-1896. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.