Study Guide

Fool for Love Introduction

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Fool for Love Introduction

Welcome to the Mojave Desert, Shmooper, where the motels are sleazy, the tequila flows like water (water outside the desert, anyhow), "you" is spelled "ya" and family drama is very… intimate.

If you this is your first Sam Shepard play, you'll get a crash course in Sherpardese with Fool For Love. This play has all the hallmarks of a Shepard joint: anguished lovers, violence, the reality of the American west juxtaposed with its romantic image, and what he calls "the whacked out corridors of broken-off America."

Think No Country For Old Men meets Trainspotting. Think country music meets beat poetry. Think incestuous motel romance meets the delusional ghost of an old dude meets a vindictive ex-girlfriend who shoots up horse trailers. (Especially think of that last one).

Basically, this play is what happen when a half-brother reunites with his half-sister. Except they've been doin' it for about fifteen years. And they're both a little unhinged. And then his girlfriend shows up. And then her boyfriend shows up. And then the past comes back to bite them.

Fool for Love first hit the stage in 1983 and is part of what is known as Shepard's "Family Trilogy" (which ultimately ended up consisting of five plays). Shepard started writing the series to kind of work through some of the issues from his own family sitch (and no, we don't mean incest). There's a 1985 movie version of Fool for Love starring Shepard himself as Eddie, and Kim Basinger as May.

Leaving the shocking brother-sister romance aside (hard to do, we know), the play takes you into the dynamics of a very toxic romance that both partners find it hard to escape… which is actually a common enough thing in marriages/families, unfortunately. Romance and family are complicated, and Shepard's "trilogy" explores a whole host of those kinds of complications.

What is Fool for Love About and Why Should I Care?

Hey, Shmooper. Are you lovesick? Or: are you getting over a bad breakup? Or, hey: are you in a long-term relationship with a sweet cutie-pie? Or—especially—are you in a relationship that's turning your stomach into knots and your head into a pile of wet mush?

If you thought "Hey, that's me," for any of the above, then hey: you should read Fool For Love.

This play is probably the best PSA about intense romance we've ever come across. Fool for Love presents us with another potential horror of locking lips and locking hearts: accidentally sleeping with a half sibling. And then being unable to "quit" the person even after you know that you share genetic real estate. Yikes, right?

Okay, the incest plot probably isn't the most relatable part of Sam Shepard's play for you—we get that. However, it does drive home how intense romances can be—and the fact that it can be scarily easy to get into a pretty toxic cycle of codependence and bad decisions with your partner.

The two main characters are so addicted to each other and their funky dynamics that they can't get away from each other even though they know they're related—that's how intense they are about each other.

You might be rolling your eyes right about now, thinking that May and Eddie are just individuals who make these bad decisions because they have something wrong upstairs. Well, be that as it may, the play emphasizes that being a "fool" when it comes to love is hardly extraordinary—normal people get wrapped up in toxic relationships… and then start acting like they are maniacs.

Just look at all the other characters and relationships mentioned. The Old Man is the bigamist who got May and Eddie into their incestuous mess, and we know that Eddie's "Countess" friend has gone crazy enough for him that she's following him around and shooting up his car. Martin seems like the only halfway normal one, and even he is a little suspect—he's perhaps a little too calm about the fact that his date is embroiled in an incestuous love affair with her brother.

The point is that Fool for Love shines some big Countess-style Mercedes Benz headlights on how crazy love can make you. Even if your squeeze isn't a blood relative.

So if you're lonely, well, this play will probably make you a little less lonely (because love makes you cray). If you're getting over a breakup, then this play will make you happy about that fact. If you're madly in love with a sweet sweet sweetie, then this play will make you pretty pleased about that (although you probably were already). And if you're in a torrid toxic love affair—well, Fool For Love might make you want to run out the door and never turn back.

Fool for Love Resources


On the Fringe
Apparently the play was edgy enough to make the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival—check out the blurb.

Fool for Rotten Tomatoes
If you want the 411 before you watch the film version, be sure to check out the Rotten Tomatoes site on the film.


Fool for Self-Casting
Check out Sam Shepard acting in his own play in the Robert Altman-directed film version.


Live and On Stage
Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda did Fool for Love at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2014—and apparently it was pretty good.

Live and On Stage, Part Deux
The 2010 performance in London was not quite as well received.


Shorter Fool for Love
Watch Fool for Love as a short film adaptation.

Shepard Speaks
Check out an excerpt from a PBS Great Performances special on Shepard, in which he talks about his "family plays"—Part 1.

Shepard Speaks… more
Check out an excerpt from a PBS Great Performances special on Shepard, in which he talks about his "family plays"—Part 2.

Shepard Speaks… even more
Check out an excerpt from a PBS Great Performances special on Shepard, in which he talks about his "family plays"—Part 3


Back to the Beginning
If you're wondering what Kathy Baker and Ed Harris looked like as May and Eddie, look no further.

Devil in A Red Dress?
Check out a still from Juliette Lewis's turn in Fool for Love.

A Different Kind of Rockwell Painting
Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda rock the stage in their production.

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