Love's Fire: Flaming Hearts of Youth

Local Arts Reviews


Love's Fire: Flaming Hearts of Youth

Mary Moody Northen Theatre,

through April 16

Running Time: 1 hr, 30 min

Riddle me this, Batman: What do you get when you mix Talk Radio, Falsettos, House of Blue Leaves, Angels in America, 'Night, Mother, The Heidi Chronicles, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, and Shakespeare's sonnets at low speed?

Answer: Seven major voices in contemporary American theatre each writing a short play inspired by a Shakespearean sonnet (or sonnets, in the case of John Guare). Also known as Love's Fire. But while all the pieces are inspired by the Bard, each one is intrinsically unique -- garnering further inspiration from Love, Humanity, Nature, and God.

At the heart of it, this Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward's University production is the confession of a love affair with language, perception of language -- using spoken, outspoken, and unspoken voices. Riveting and powerful, the text (dialogue and song) hobnobs with Shakespeare's verse. This recitation (yes, the sonnet source for each piece is recited by one if not more of the actors) can be a bitter pill for contemporary audiences, but with the direction of Vicky Boone and Annie Suite and Margery Segal's kinetic choreography, these plays offer some enticing honey to the taste.

The show opens with cascading, patterned, Op Art psychedelic lights and a question: "Where is the fire?" Speaking dramaturgically, the placement of the plays is nothing short of meticulous. Bogosian's piece (with his take on the you're-a-nice-guy speech) and Guare's (which gives the evening its title) bookend the other five plays. Moveable platforms make the sets score high in the functionality category. As an ensemble, the cast works well and no one actor is a space hog. Every inch of Mary Moody Northen Theatre space is used. If you sit next to an aisle, keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times.

At evening's end, an audience can expect to feel worn out. In Bitter Sauce, Bogosian's piece, Jenny Larson is like Tigger on speed. Then in Guare's piece, she knocks you out with her singing. Pow. In the middle of the show, Tony Kushner's Terminating, or Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein, or Ambivalence downright spanks the audience. Three parallel scenes present Hendryk (Cory Cruser) with his therapist, Esther (Lee Eddy), and their lovers Billygoat (Stuart Bone) and Dymphna (Shannon Riley) -- his and hers, respectively. Hendryk's hotwired tongue moves the discourse through the meaning of love, life, death, tattoos, taboos, homophones, and homosexuals in a few short minutes.

I never thought I'd say this, but in some of the pieces, especially Ntozake Shange's Hydraulics and Guare's The General of Hot Desire, where the ensemble is onstage for the play within a play, the actors' age (or lack thereof) shows. Still, it's a good thing the actors are young. As Love's Fire reinvigorates our grasp of language, we come to an understanding that sonnets, poems, books, plays, and physical movements all fuel the fire of love. And where do we find these things more than in youth?

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love's fire, john guare, eric bogosian, ntozake shange, wendy wasserstein, tony kushner, marsha norman, mary moody northen theatre, st. edward's university, vicky boone, annie suite, margery segal, jenny larson, cory cruser, lee eddy, shannon riley<

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