The NY-based Acting Company just reached the grand old age of 25 and is celebrating the occasion with an evening of one-act plays and music inspired by Shakespeare's sonnets.
And who better to adapt the Bard's poetry than some of the leading voices in American theatre? The Acting Company has snared a real A-list of writers -- Eric Bogosian, William Finn, John Guare, Tony Kushner, Marsha Norman, Ntozake Shange, and Wendy Wasserstein -- to update the sonnets and give them a contemporary spin.
The evening of seven one-acts, Love's Fire: Fresh Numbers by Seven American Playwrights, has its world premiere at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, MN, Jan. 3, followed by a 45-city cross-country tour, a stint at the Barbican Center in London from May 20-June 7, and a New York engagement June 12-28 at a theatre to be announced. The director for Love's Fire will be Mark Lamos.
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.
Rehearsals are scheduled to begin in December. The first performances of Love's Fire will be given at the Guthrie Theatre Lab in Minneapolis, MN, from Jan. 3-18, 1998.
This season The Acting Company will also present a new production of Romeo and Juliet, which will be directed by James Bundy. Romeo and Juliet will be performed at the New Victory Theatre in New York from Jan. 21- Feb. 8. Romeo and Juliet and Love's Fire will then tour the U.S. in repertory from Feb. 9-May 9.
Following the cross-country tour, the Acting Company travels to London in May to participate in the Barbican's "Inventing America" festival.
The Acting Company was founded in 1972 by Margot Harley and John Houseman from the first graduating class of the Juilliard School's Drama Division, with a mission to take theatre to audiences across the U.S. Its many illustrious alumni include Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Gerald Gutierrez, and David Ogden Stiers.
-- By Rebecca Paller