London's Barbican Center, home base for both the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Shakespeare Company, launches a 10-month salute to the United States on Jan. 25, with a production of John Adams' historical opera Nixon in China.
The festival, dubbed "Inventing America," comprises all of the arts, with a special emphasis on music -- including performances by the Minnesota Orchestra, the New World Symphony and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as well as recitals by the Emerson String Quartet and soprano diva Kathleen Battle.
On a more theatrical note, there will be a new Philip Glass/Robert Wilson multimedia collaboration, Monsters of Grace.
There will also be a production of the Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre's The Man Who Came to Dinner, starring John Mahoney and directed by James Burrows, from July 16-25.
And the New York-based Acting Company -- which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season -- has been invited to perform an evening of seven one-acts based on Shakespeare's sonnets by an A list of writers -- Eric Bogosian, William Finn, John Guare, Tony Kushner, Marsha Norman, Ntozake Shange, and Wendy Wasserstein. The evening of one-acts, Love's Fire: Fresh Numbers by Seven American Playwrights, was given its world premiere at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, MN, on Jan. 3, and is currently touring the U.S. It is scheduled to play the Barbican festival May 20-23.
The director for Love's Fire is Mark Lamos, and the playlets are as diverse in tone and theme as the playwrights themselves.
Bogosian has taken Sonnet 118 and come up with a story of sexual jealousy and obsessiveness. The three-character play involves a bride, a groom, and the bride's former lover.
Composer Finn has turned Sonnet 102 into a song about an artist attempting to paint his lover -- and failing miserably at his efforts.
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. Guare's play includes music by Floyd Collins composer Adam Guettel.
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.
Norman's contribution, drawn from Sonnet 140, is a La Ronde-like play about betrayal and sexual jealousy.
Shange's one-act, based on Sonnet 128, is an exploration of music and dance that begins with a man watching his lover perform a jazz composition. The music is by jazz notable Chico Freeman, with choreography by Dyane Harvey.
Wasserstein's one-act play, inspired by Sonnet 94 , is set in the Hamptons, where a well-to-do couple is getting ready to attend a society benefit.
"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 dramaturge 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.
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, added Cattaneo.
For information about the "Inventing America" festival, call the Barbican at 011-44-1-71-638-8891.
-- By Rebecca Paller