WILLIAMSTOWN -- "Hell is other people," Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his 1944 Existentialist play, "No Exit." How prescient. Thirty-nine years later, in 1983, along came Sam Shepard and proved Sartre right with "Fool For Love.

In Shepard’s fatiguing, tortuous play-- which is being given an intensely acted go-for-broke but ultimately wearisome, uninvolving production at Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Nikos Stage -- we are brought to an at-once roomy and claustrophobic motel room on the edge of the Mohave Desert where a combative, emotionally violent couple, May (Nina Arianda) and Eddie (Sam Rockwell), are locked in an explosive leave me-don’t-leave-me-I-need-you-I-don’t-need you pas de deux that you sense has been played out time and again over the 15 years they’ve been lovers.

There is more than a hint of lies and betrayal in the sexually charged dark dusty atmosphere of this room whose space is filled by a desperate battle of wills, want and need between two people who are the definition of a couple who cannot live with each other anymore than they can live without.

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The play begins gently, quietly. At one point, Eddie offers to get the silent May a cup of tea. She crouches on the floor, her arms around one of his legs. And then, suddenly, without warning, she uncoils and the two have at each other for the better part of just under an intermissionless hour and 20 minutes, each manipulating the other by threatening to walk out, beginning to walk out then retreating, then threatening but there is no simple exit here.


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As events unfold, two others -- a not entirely disinterested old man (Gordon Joseph Weiss) who watches the goings on from his vantage point on the periphery until he is drawn into this wearying fray; and Martin (Christopher Abbott), a profoundly naive bystander who has come to pick May up on a movie date. It is clear, however, that she is far more than Martin could ever handle.

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Nothing is resolved in this loud, shrill exploration of the agony and the ecstasy of love. There is a gnawing sense of inevitability about May and Eddie, for whom, as the play begins, it has been some time since they last met; a sense that this is not the end, that they will play this scene out again and yet again.

No one gets off easy here -- not May nor Eddie; not Martin nor The Old Man; and, in the end, not the audience.