The play's protagonist. Dressed in cowboy gear from head to toe, Eddie is a larger than life, multi-dimensional character. Some of his traits are not larger than life but ordinary weaknesses. For instance, he is an overly proud man with a drinking problem. Eddie is emblematic of the symbol he believes in. He believes in the myths of the idyllic American West, the cowboy as a hero who saves the day, and the American Dream of country living. Eddie habitually entangles himself in volatile romances. His passionate, competitive nature magnifies itself when he drinks and when he relates to his lovers May and "the Countess." He has trouble distinguishing between reality and fiction, lies and truth though he would not admit this. Eddie has a strange but complicit relationship with his father, the Old Man character in the play who exists only in May and Eddie's minds. Eddie shares his love of liquor with the Old Man and seems to share the same sense of humor. Eddie's character contains autobiographical elements of Sam Shepard's life. He wrote Fool for Love after leaving his wife, O-Lan, for movie actress, Jessica Lange and has a complicated past with his heavy-drinking father.
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Eddie's lover. Simultaneously strong-willed and vulnerable, May lives alone in a seedy motel room on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert. May is a good match for Eddie in that she can keep up with his verbal gymnastics and power plays. She can make Eddie as jealous as he makes her and she can reject Eddie just as powerfully as he does her. On the flipside, May longs for Eddie and the largeness of their desire just as much as Eddie longs for May.
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Eddie's and May's father. The Old Man appears only in the minds of May and Eddie. Martin does not hear or see him, adding to the dream-like qualities of the play. His surreal contributions to the play add an outsider's commentary with the perspective of an insider. He is the father of May and Eddie and yet he had so little to do with raising them he is a stranger. The Old Man was with Eddie's mother for most of Eddie's childhood and simultaneously was having a secret relationship with May's mother in another town. He lived a double life that became revealed when Eddie and May were teenagers. The Old Man's presence in the play highlights the recurring themes of dual relationships, reality vs. illusion, lies vs. truth and the way stories and memories mutate and change as different people remember the same event. Through Shepard's inclusion of the Old Man, we see the extent one person's selfish decisions can affect other people's lives for years to come and the way history may repeat itself or stop a pattern in abusive relationships and in families.
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A simple, innocent, and kind man who lives in a town near May's hotel. Martin is a large man who works maintenance for places around town like the high school stadium. Martin's innocence to sexual affairs and the kind of volatile passion that May and Eddie exhibit before his entrance creates a dream-like quality to his appearance. It is as if Martin has stumbled into May and Eddie's surreal landscape and does not know why he is there or how he fits in. He is an audience to their conflicting stories and an involuntary sufferer to their verbal abuse and power struggle. Martin represents the hopeful, but dull life ahead of May if she chooses to let go of Eddie for good. He is also an unknowing competitor to Eddie. By nature Martin is uncompetitive, even offering to leave Eddie and May alone, he makes Eddie's personality appear all the more absurd and ridiculous. The play ends with Martin looking out of the window at the fiery ball of Eddie's truck. He seems like a lost traveler swept up briefly in the storm of Eddie and May's life and dropped back to the ground suddenly and alone to sort out for himself the tumult that just brushed his own, simple life for a night.