Savannah's damp and gothic predilections will be absent inside Muse Arts Warehouse this weekend when "Fool for Love" takes the stage.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Sam Shepard's arid Mojave Desert tale of embattled lovers is making its way to a blackbox setting inside one the city's coziest spaces.
The show is being put on by Savannah's lone repertory company, The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble, and its artistic director, David I.L. Poole, has helped bring classic works of drama and comedy to the city's stages for five years.
"We're the only rep in town," Poole said. "Our first show was 'Enchanted April' in a church, and we decided that there was a need for a theater company. Two years ago, we started the rep theater."
Largely made up of SCAD graduates, Collective Face puts on up to four plays a year and has done so with regularity since 2010. They run the gamut from the works of Tennessee Williams ("The Glass Menagerie," "Suddenly, Last Summer") to Neil Simon ("The Brighton Beach Memoirs") to Tony Kushner ("Angels in America Part I.")
When thinking about what Collective Face's next play was going to be, Poole believed he needed to piggyback off the success of their production of Peter Shaffer's "Equus" in the fall and stay grim.
"I wanted something that was rooted in dark drama, obsessive love," he said.
Knowing Shepard's canon is packed with the dramatic tropes he was looking for, Poole found his cast and went straight to work on "Fool for Love." The play's reliance on limited set pieces and actors was something Poole enjoyed tackling.
"It's a smaller cast, which I love. It's also another opportunity to explore our audience," he said.
Poole's belief in gauging the audience, if not testing them ever so slightly, is what makes Collective Face such an intriguing company.
"I'm always looking for shows for everyone," he said. "I think our audience, they tend to like our darker work. In this case, it'll bring us a new demographic of constituents."
Shepard's in-your-face style of dialogue and thematic elements is what truly drew Poole to the material.
"I really do love Shepard's work. It was fascinating to do biographical research. He had just left his wife and child for Jessica Lange," he said.
In "Fool for Love," the two primary characters are old flames who reconvene at a Mojave Desert motel room to hash out the past and possibly discuss the future. The appearance of the "Old Man" throws an unexpected log on the fire, which thrusts the rest of the story headlong into chaos.
Poole sees Shepard possibly exorcising some demons through the two ex-lovers in the play.
"What is the cycle of Eddie and May? What are the tactics? This is a tactic-driven play," he said. "You have to find the nuances in Shepard's writing. They're unbelievable."
Through Collective Face, specifically the small number of actors, he made it his intention to bring about the nuances. As Shepard's words continue to cut through each of the characters, truths, sometimes brutal, are made.
The real excitement surrounding the production for Poole was challenging his performers to go places that might be difficult. Fortunately for him, having the only repertory theater in town meant the actors tend to bring their "A" game.
"This is a piece where the actors of the company and crew can work safely. (Last night's) rehearsal, they were just fierce," Poole said.
The intimacy of Fool for Love is what sets it apart from a majority of American theater in the last 30 years. In the age of big-budget Broadway, the works of Shepard and his contemporaries, including David Mamet, hearken back to the work of Edward Albee.
"It's a more modern 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'" Poole said. "Truth or lies. There's one line where the 'Old Man' says, 'This is reality.' What he claims to be reality, though, is very much a lie. It's a play about interpretations."
Poole was quick to point out that while on the surface, the works of Albee and Shepard go down divergent paths, whether it's in the class of people or the setting, the moods evoked from the dialogue are quite familial.
The production of "Fool for Love," while more sparse than some of Collective Face's other interpretations, is still heavily involved. Muse's stage guarantees an up-close environment.
Muse has kind of been our home. It's a wonderful place. It's intimate," Poole said. "We have this wonderful stage. We're very excited."
Fool for Love opens March 7 and continues through the following two weekends. A reception will follow the opening night performance, catered by Joe's Homemade CafÃ©, Catering and Bakery, and there will be an announcement about the 2014-15 season.