Seven playwrights were commissioned by the New York-based Acting Company to pen one-act plays inspired by Shakespeare's sonnets. John Guare, Marsha Norman, Eric Bogosian, William Finn, Tony Kushner, Ntozake Shange and Wendy Wasserstein were all asked to contribute to Love's Fire: Fresh Numbers by Seven American Playwrights.
The piece also features original music by Finn, Chico Freeman, and Adam Guettel. It began performances at Off-Broadway's Joseph Papp Public Theatre June 19 and opens June 22 for a limited run through July 5.
Love's Fire had its world premiere at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, MN, Jan. 3, followed by a 45-city cross-country tour and a stint at the Barbican Center in London from May 20-June 7. The director for Love's Fire will be Mark Lamos.
The playlets are as diverse in tone and theme as the playwrights themselves.
Norman's contribution, drawn from Sonnet 140, is a La Ronde-like play about betrayal and sexual jealousy. Guare's contribution, an adaptation of Sonnet 154, focuses on a group of actors who are attempting to do a dramatic adaptation of -- guess what? -- Shakespeare's Sonnet 154. Titled "The General of Hot Desire, An Essay," Guare's play includes music by Floyd Collins composer Adam Guettel.
Bogosian's Bitter Sauce takes Sonnet 118 and comes up with a story of sexual jealousy and obsessiveness. The three-character play involves a bride, a groom, and the bride's former lover. Starring are Heather Robison and Daniel Pearce.
With Painting, composer Finn turns Sonnet 102 into a song about an artist attempting to paint his lover -- and failing miserably at his efforts. Jason Alan Carvell and Stephen DeRosa star.
Kushner has adapted Sonnet 75 into a work for four characters: a man, his female psychiatrist, and two people who are figments of their imaginations. Terminating, or Lass Meine Schmertzen Nicht Verloren Sein, or Ambivalence stars Stephen DeRosa and Hamish Linklater.
Shange's one-act, Hydraulics Phat Like Mean, based on Sonnet 128, is an exploration of music and dance that begins with a man watching his lover perform a jazz composition. Starring are Lisa Tharps and Jason Alan Carvell. The music is by jazz notable Chico Freeman, with choreography by Dyane Harvey.
Wasserstein's one-act play, Waiting for Philip Glass, inspired by Sonnet 94 , is set in the Hamptons, where a well-to-do couple gets ready to attend a society benefit. Featured are James Farmer, Lisa Tharps and Erika Rolfsrud.
"The intriguing thing about the sonnets is that while they are about romantic and sexual love, they are not bound to any particular setting or even to any particular sex -- male or female," said Lincoln Center Theatre's Anne Cattaneo, the dramaturg who came up with the idea for Love's Fire, in a recent interview.
"Our challenge to the seven writers was to explore the emotional moments of the sonnets," said Cattaneo. Designing all the plays are Michael Yeargan (set), Candice Donnelly (costumes) and Robert Wierzel (lighting).
The Shakespeare project has been inspired by The Acting Company's successful production of Orchards a decade ago, in which seven writers -- including Guare and Wasserstein -- were asked to update the short stories of Chekhov, Cattaneo added.