Dunnell adapts senior project to his own vision

Olivia Hendricks

From the opening scene of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love,” it was clear that director and Lawrence senior Tim Dunnell was not afraid to make adjustments to suit his audience and actors, but most especially to suit his vision of Shepard’s artistic nature.
The first thing audiences heard as they gathered Nov. 13 and 14 in Cloak Theatre was Guster’s “Demons,” chosen as the background music to the introductory scene added by Dunnell.
The lighting was low. The quarreling actors mouthed angry words, but made no sound — all of this was of Dunnell’s design, not Shepard’s. To some, it might seem to have been a risky move to set the tone for the rest of the play with a scene not indicated by the writer.
Yet for Dunnell, leaving room for the director to make adjustments is part of the inherent style of Sam Shepard. Said Dunnell, “The interesting thing about Shepard’s writing, I feel, is that he kind of builds a framework and lets you apply what you want to it. He’s not the typical dramatic action type of playwright. There’s an emphasis on stream of consciousness, but not a lot of stuff actually happens within the play.”
This seemed true enough, as the most significant conflicts and themes within the play came not from typical plot developments, but rather from disclosures, reflections and discrepancies regarding the characters’ pasts.
Two on-again, off-again lovers, Eddie and May, played by Jem Herron and Brune Macary, respectively, each tell their own stories about their relationship history.
The somewhat unfortunate onstage audience is Martin, played by Jeff Rudisill, a na’ve and boyish suitor of May. Eddie is gregarious in his telling and May is passionate in hers, but each leaves the audience wondering just how much of what he or she says is true.
Dunnell made an effort to highlight this sense of uncertainty about the past. He explained, “The idea of not knowing whose story is true interested me,” and cited this textual ambiguity as another level of Shepard leaving room for interpretation by director and performers. To emphasize this ambiguity onstage, Dunnell left all picture frames empty, suggesting the unknown nature of the past.
Yet things really grow complicated and uncertain with the involvement of the fourth and final voice in the play: the Old Man, played by Sam Flood. The Old Man exists only in the minds of May and Eddie, having lived years earlier, but he can no longer speak or act directly in reality. Furthermore, he is revealed to be the father of both May and Eddie, having lived something of a dichotomous love life as both May and Eddie do.
In a second major adaptation, Dunnell chose not to portray the Old Man as old, but rather as a younger man about Eddie’s age. In this way, he hoped to illustrate the parallels between Eddie and his father, and show the strange relationship between past and present, reality and spirit.
Reflecting on the play and all of the difficult judgment calls made as director, Dunnell concluded, “Shepard’s writing is so layered and there are so many different ways to interpret it. He forces you to make choices and you don’t know if they’re right but you just have to go with it.”
What else can one do in the face of ambiguity?

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