Much Ado About Sonnets

If McKeever and Fionte provide the acting highlights, the directorial coup goes to Tom Dillickrath, who marshals amazing creativity in the service of The General of Hot Desire. John Guare's backstage drama is an homage, if that's the word, to Sonnets 153 and 154, both about Cupid. The play opens as a group of actors sit parsing the texts, looking up definitions of archaic words in various authorities from Helen Vendler to Cliffs Notes. Then they debate the futility of making a play about a sleeping Cupid when, as one actor puts it, "the world is falling apart. Bosnia, Northern Ireland. The Middle East."

Finally, after arguing over the purpose of art and wrestling with obscure terms like hermeneutics, the actors construct a skit that tells the story of the Tree of Life, but which also handily ties together themes of love, knowledge, and poetry into ... well, into something moving and funny.

Because Guare weighs in with the heavy themes, it hardly matters that some of the other plays are mere throwaways. I'll take a fillip from William Finn any day, even if it's something as light as Painting You, in which a painter sings to his brawny lover about the impossibility of capturing him on canvas. It's inspired by Sonnet 102 ("My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming") and augmented by Fionte's sweet voice.

Similarly straightforward is 140 by Marsha Norman, so called because it's inspired by Sonnet 140 ("Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press"). The playlet is a solemn rondelet, with a chain of lovers accusing each other in succession. Nicely directed by Adjan, the work is nonetheless forgettable.

Leave it to Wendy Wasserstein, then, to write a piece of fluff that doubles as biting social commentary. Her inspiration, appropriately, is Sonnet 94 ("Those that have the power to hurt and will do none"). Her comedy Waiting for Philip Glass not only sends up Samuel Beckett, but also skewers the Hamptons crowd in a comedy that revolves around whether the avant-garde composer will make an appearance at a certain party. Among the guests is a pretentious magazine columnist who, confusing Glass with his frequent collaborator Robert Wilson, mentions Wilson's obscure mindbogglingly long opera Einstein on the Beach, "which," she says, "I could sit through every night." Yeah, right. If the talents of Actors' Project continue to mature, however, and the troupe presents works as challenging and fresh as Love's Fire, I'll happily sit through more nights.

Love's Fire.
Written by Eric Bogosian, William Finn, John Guare, Tony Kushner, Marsha Norman, Ntozake Shange, and Wendy Wasserstein. Directed by Amy London, Robert Craig Dawson, Irene Adjan, and John Fionte. Through June 20. Actors' Project Theatre Company at the Studio, 640 N Andrews Ave, Fort Lauderdale, 954-340-8063.

Owing to a reporting error, in the theater review of Love's Fire (June 10, 1999) by Actors' Project Theatre Company, the director of one skit was misidentified. John Fionte directed The General of Hot Desire. New Times regrets the error.

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