JANESVILLE—If the audience of “Fool for Love” doesn’t feel uncomfortable, Nick French said he isn’t doing his job.

French is the director of the four-actor play, which will be presented by Stage One starting Friday, Sept. 20, at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

The play is “kind of like a Western but all turned on its head,” French said.

“The play has its atmosphere of claustrophobia, as if you are trapped in the room with the characters,” he said.

“I want to see them (the audience) enjoy themselves, but if they don’t feel the discomfort, I am not doing my job.”

The story revolves around lovers May and Eddie who are staying in a rundown motel in the desert as they confront each other about love, memory and family.

“We have two lovers battling it out,” French said. “It is also about memory and how hard it is to escape from the past, and the damage our families have done to us.”

But the director insists the play is not all doom and gloom. There is some humor sprinkled in, French said.

The play, which premiered in 1983, was written by the late Sam Shepard. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984.

French has loved Shepard’s work since French was a child and saw Shepard act in “The Right Stuff,” he said.

“You can tell he came from an acting background,” French said. “His characters are rich and have great background.”

Stage One’s board of directors has wanted the cast to perform a Sam Shepard show for years, French said. When Shepard died in 2017, the board believed it had to pay homage to the famous actor, director and writer, he added.

Shepard’s “Fool for Love” was chosen because it has the right combination of artistic merit, accessibility and charm, French said.

Stage One will keep its performance true to the original, but the nature of the play puts most of the story in the actors’ hands. The performance can change each time the actors take the stage based on how they choose to portray their parts, French said.

The biggest challenge in putting on this play is how much the script asks of the actors, French said.

“It is very demanding for the cast, and the first note in the play is that it should be performed relentlessly without a break,” he said.

The show is relatively short—about 75 minutes with no intermission—but it is jam-packed with emotion and dialogue, French said. There are a lot of lines, and actors barely leave the stage.

French hopes audience members are stunned by the four actors’ ranges in performing, he said.

Working with such a small cast has benefits, French said. It is easy to manage schedules, plan rehearsals, and French got to pick the very best of those who auditioned for the show.

French said he prefers the small group because he gets to work very closely with a few people rather than trying to work with and get to know a large group. The cast also has been able to run through the entire show in rehearsal multiple times, which is rare.

“So many stage productions are about the spectacle,” French sad. “This is a play stripped to the bone, so it should let the acting and characters shine through.”