"We're mean to each other, but in a loving way," Sam Rockwell said of Nina Arianda, his co-star in Fool for Love, Sam Shepard's tale of a tangled relationship that made its belated Broadway bow Oct. 8 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
Rockwell was putting it mildly, to say the least. Shepard's play, which first opened Off-Broadway in 1983, depicts the dysfunctional relationship between May (Arianda) and Eddie (Rockwell), her former lover who has surprised her with an appearance at the motel room she currently occupies in the Mojave Desert. With both Eddie and May pacing the room, it quickly becomes a battlefield.
Fool for Love, With Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell, Heats Up Broadway; Opening Night Red Carpet, Bows and Party!
Once May recovers from the shock — the play opens with her seated motionless on the bed, her face hidden by her hair — a battle of wills and willpower commences, as the two begin to bounce off the walls, bruising each other physically and mentally. May begs Eddie to leave, but the moment he walks to the door, she pleads with him to stay. Eddie declares his love for her, but May is convinced he will leave — like he has many times before.
The destructive cycle soon draws in Martin (Tom Pelphrey), a nice man from the neighborhood who only wants to take May to the movies, while the Old Man (Gordon Joseph Weiss), seated calmly in a rocking chair on the edge of the stage, comments on the action, revealing deep-seated family secrets. These Fools found their way to Broadway by way of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where Arianda and Rockwell joined the production at a moment's notice, following the withdrawal of cast members Lauren Ambrose and Chris Pine. Critics noted their chemistry, which they brought in full force to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
"It was pretty clear we had something special," director Daniel Aukin said of the new co-stars.
"Organically, luckily, it's trust," Arianda said of her relationship with Rockwell at the opening-night party at URBO upstairs. "If anyone's in an intimate situation, I think the most important thing involved is trust. If you find that in an acting partner, you really can't ask for anything more."
Rockwell was equally appreciative of his co-star, crediting her sense of humor, as well as her dedication to her craft, as laying the foundation for their success onstage. "Her talent and her commitment is what I think we cling to as actor nerds. We have a similar work ethic, and the chemistry comes out of that."
If the dynamic between Rockwell and Arianda was born of their work ethic, it disrupted one of their co-stars' focus during rehearsals. "I made the mistake one time before I made my entrance of watching them run the show up until that point," Pelphrey admitted. "I was so caught up in it, I almost forgot to go onstage."
October 8 marked the first time Fool For Love had opened on Broadway — "God knows why it took so long," director Aukin commented — and the opening was the culmination of long-time passion for many of the people involved.
"I've always loved this play," Aukin said. "I've been wanting to direct it for years and years. I first read it 15 years ago. It wasn't that I understood it completely or how I would approach it completely, but it really just haunted me and wouldn't leave me alone."
Rockwell, who had longed to play the part of Eddie for years, was relieved he had brought his dream to fruition, saying, "Thank God it's over!" and describing it as "astounding, nerve wracking and surreal."
But it hadn't hit Arianda yet. "I have enough on my plate moment by moment that I'm attempting to live in. I think afterwards it will hit me that I actually got to speak with Sam Shepard and have him in the room. But right now I'm not really letting that in."
Stars in attendance were no stranger to Shepard. Amanda Green recalled "butchering all the great shows" in acting school when she rehearsed scenes from several of his plays. She hinted that she has two new musicals on the horizon but couldn't share any details about them.
The night marked a homecoming for many of the guests. Linda Lavin, who was last seen on the Friedman stage in Collected Stories, will return in Our Mother's Brief Affair, a role she is looking forward to. "She's a very different mother from the other mothers I've played in recent years. The quality, tone, perspective, at a time in this country… it has a political aspect to it as well."
Tracee Chimo, last seen stealing scenes in The Heidi Chronicles, also shared a memory from MTC, but hers took place offstage. "I worked in the telemarketing department," she said, laughing. "I would call people and make them buy tickets. It was fun, but it was a hard job to call people at 5-6 PM, which is dinnertime for the 9-5ers. They don't like that. They're not happy with that."
Sherie Rene Scott was happy with what Fool For Love was bringing to Broadway.
"We need more plays on Broadway. And more plays that deal with intimacy and sex," she remarked on her way into the theatre. And, with Arianda and Rockwell continuing Eddie and May's never-ending dance, it's safe to say she was not disappointed.