The New York-based Acting Company recently 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, had its world premiere at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, MN, Jan. 3-18, followed by a 45-city cross-country tour, an upcoming stint at the Barbican Center in London (May 20-June 7), and a New York engagement set for June 19-28 at NY's Public Theatre.
Starring are company members Jason Alan Carvell, Stephen DeRosa, James Farmer, Hamish Linklater, Daniel Pearce, Jennifer Rohn, Heather Robison, Erika Rolfsrud and Lisa Tharps. The director for Love's Fire is Mark Lamos.
The playlets are as diverse in tone and theme as the playwrights themselves. 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.
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.
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.
Norman's contribution, drawn from Sonnet 140, is a La Ronde-like play about betrayal and sexual jealousy.
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 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. 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, added Cattaneo.
Love's Fire toured the U.S. in repertory with the company's production of Romeo & Juliet, the latter ending this weekend. Here's the upcoming Love's Fire schedule:
May 8-9: Escondido, CA, California Arts Center
May 20-June 6: London, England, Barbican Centre
Previews begin June 19 at NY's Public Theatre (Newman space). Opening June 22 for a run through July 5. For tickets call (212) 239-6200.
Spokesperson Susan Chicoine told Playbill On-Line (May 8) the hope is that the show will extend at the Public.
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.