Riverwalk’s ‘Fool for Love’ brings sexual tension to black box stage

When the man and woman argued near the start of “Fool for Love,” I wasn’t sure if they were bickering lovers, a cheating couple or squabbling siblings. As it turned out, I was right, I was right and I was right.

Dale D. Hills played Eddie, a backwoods kind of character with a propensity for drinking and shouting. Raine Paul was May, a semi-disturbed lady with proclivity for insecurity and shouting. In fairness, the pair did have a lot to yell about. Their relationship was torturing them, both had outside partners and, yes, they were related.

Through the unfolding of Riverwalk Theatre’s “Fool for Love,” we learn that Eddie and May have had the hots for each other since high school.

That made for a lot of heat on the black box stage — and a lot of door slamming. During the one-hour play, written by Sam Shepard, stage doors slammed fourteen times.

Martin, who shows up as May’s movie date, was the only actor who consistently closed doors properly. Except for his outof-character, combative entrance, Steve Lee played a restrained, cardboard character, a fellow who remained passive even after learning his girlfriend was already attached to her half-brother, Eddie.

Off to the side of an unadorned motel room set, an old man pitched gently in a rocking chair. Tim Perry played the father to a son and daughter from different mothers. The “ghost” of dad sometimes interjected loony rants, either from his chair or while stepping onto the stage. When the old man came to life, May and Eddie sometimes remained motionless.

To this critic, those were the weakest moments in “Fool for Love.” When Hills and Paul occupied the space and gave motion to their characters, the stage was alive with energy, conflict, steam and tension — lots of tension. The two leads, directed by Ronald Auther, made the disturbing mess of a story into a very watchable and engaging spectacle.

Paul quickly established the sexual heat of the play. The first spark was early in “Fool for Love,” when she momentarily stripped down to her underwear. For most of the play, her body was covered by a super short, super clinging, bright red dress. It hid her figure about as much as a coat of paint would. Every part of her body — as well as her face — communicated believable emotion.

Hills was the perfect target of her teases and fiery insults. He convincingly kept his drawl and stayed in character, even during his violent outbursts. Hills realistically acted the part of a man affected by drinking repeatedly from a tequila bottle. (A small quibble: Would a guy with duck tape holding his boot together be able to afford Patron?) He had a way of making it likeable to watch an unlikeable guy.

As expected in a Black Box venue, Bob Nees’ set was nothing more than simple, painted walls with a window and two doors to slam. The only special lighting, designed by Tom Ferris, was lights seen through the window shears that meekly simulated car lights and a fire.

But that was enough when the two figures occupying the plain set gave anything but plain performances. This fool might not be able to say I loved “Fool for Love,” but I can say I came away with a strong affection for its leads.

“Geeked” Riverwalk Theatre 8 p.m. Friday, May 19-Saturday, May 20; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 21

$12/$10 seniors, students and military Riverwalk Theatre 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700, riverwalktheatre.com