In a venture that might be called fearless and brimming with confidence in their purpose, yet another theatre company is opening its doors in the Triangle area. McQueen & Company, founded by producer/director/actress Diana Cameron McQueen, is presenting its inaugural production with Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love. Task #1 in such an undertaking is finding a venue, and at least for the time being, this newly birthed company has found a gem with a black box theater at Research Triangle High School. Centrally located between Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill, this approximately 70-seat venue will hopefully provide the home base for many productions to come and perhaps avoid the exponentially rising rents that have tolled the death knell for several local theatre companies in the past few years.

Fool for Love opened in San Francisco in 1983, directed by the playwright Sam Shepard, and the following year was nominated for and won numerous awards. It is often thought of as the fourth of a quintet of Shepard’s plays beginning in 1977, although it is certainly a work that stands on its own and is self-contained. In 1985, Shepard himself played the male lead alongside Kim Basinger in a film version directed by Robert Altman.

As the title suggests, this examines the most written, discussed, and argued about and within topic that ever was and will be: love and relationships. In that respect, the old saying that there is nothing new under the sun applies to much of the play itself, although there are enough twists and theatrical effects that make it a somewhat new and compelling experience.

The set immediately forecasts the dinginess, tawdriness, and hopelessness to follow. We are in a very shabby hotel room somewhere in the desert Southwest. The walls are dirty, the bed unmade, the table is cheap formica, and the window shades are askew. It is wonderfully evocative and a very well built set. Being that this is a love story, there is a great deal of door slamming, and the set’s walls are solid and never even budged amidst all the abuse it had to endure.

The first person we see is The Old Man (Joe Christian), a mysterious figure (at first), who just sits in a rocker, stage left, and drinks. Then we meet the lead characters, Eddie (Ryan Ladue) and May (Diana Cameron McQueen). Eddie, according to him, has made a 2,400 mile detour in his truck to come see his ex-lover May holed up in this decrepit room. At least most of the first half of this relatively short (65 minutes) play can be encapsulated by any number of country songs or many of our own mixed feelings and experiences: “I love you, I hate you, you’ve been cheating on me, get out of here, don’t leave me, you hurt me, I can’t live without you, I never want to see your face,” etc., etc. We all know Eddie is a liar about his affairs, and we sense May’s desperation in having to choose between some semblance of self-respect or losing her lover of fifteen years, regardless of his faults.

Ryan Ladue had a powerful presence as Eddie in presenting all the contradictory sides of this brash yet vulnerable character. He could convincingly exude macho bravado and detestable deceit one moment, followed by genuine tenderness and concern for May the next. He also deftly navigated the very difficult task of portraying someone intoxicated for a big chunk of the show, without falling into comical caricature. McQueen was equally convincing in May’s internal struggle of whether to give Eddie another chance as her heart urges, or throw the bum out for good as her brain says. As will happen in live theatre, McQueen also weathered two mishaps (as it appeared to me) with amazing professional aplomb. The first was dealing with her tangled red dress when she first put it on, the second much worse. It looked like she took a very hard unscripted fall, yet continued on as if nothing happened.

The story takes a surprising turn when in the last third we learn that the characters relate to each other in an unexpected way. All of the three main characters then have their chances to give extended soliloquies regarding their memories and explanations of the story’s newly revealed fact. Each was quite compelling and emotional, although I think Christian would have been more effective if he had modulated his delivery so he wasn’t only angry and loud.

During this part, the fourth and final character was introduced: Martin (J. Mardrice Henderson), May’s “date” for the evening who may or may not have been May’s lover during Eddie’s absence. Henderson played this mostly as a befuddled, clueless character who, for the most part, merely served as a sounding board for Eddie’s comments.

As in much of great drama, and almost always in the affairs of the heart, there is no “answer.” At the end, when each character walks out of that morbid room, there is really no clue as to what will happen, except that the air will definitely smell better outside that hotel.

Director Andy Hayworth, who also served as welcoming speaker, was masterful in using this small space in imaginative ways and navigating a great deal of frenetic energy within that room. Several events were also cleverly portrayed in two locales outside the scope of the set, which amplified and enhanced the geography. If Fool for Love is an example of the quality of the productions that are to come from McQueen & Company, then they certainly will have a very long and successful run in our community.

Fool for Love continues through Sunday, June 25. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.