The Austin Chronicle

The Love Sonatas: Take five (and put 'em all on stage)

By Barry Pineo, May 23, 2008, Arts

Imagine writing a cycle of five full-length plays. Tennessee Williams didn't do it. Neither did Arthur Miller or Eugene O'Neill, although O'Neill managed a trilogy of full-length plays. Robert Schenkkan did it with The Kentucky Cycle and won a Pulitzer prize for it.

Five full-length plays. A massive undertaking.

Now imagine not just writing these five plays but producing them all for the first time as a cycle over a two-week period – say, from May 18 to June 1 – with performances in the new Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center. Five plays, five directors, four designers, 26 actors.

No need to imagine anymore. It's actually happening, right here in Austin. Manuel Zarate is the author of the cycle of plays that make up The Love Sonatas, but he's probably better known around the city as a nurturer of the arts. In addition to being a member of the Long Center's board of trustees, Zarate is the founder and president of the HBMG Foundation, an offshoot of his information technology services company, HBMG Inc. Through the foundation, Zarate has been nurturing both traditional and nontraditional artists for the past three years, primarily with its ArtSpark Festival, which focuses on the creation of new, multidisciplinary work.

"The foundation brings together arts, technology, and business," says Liz Fisher, the foundation's marketing and programs manager. "We foster innovation and passion in these three areas, as well as at the intersections and fringes of these disciplines. In all of our programs, we're trying to find ways to encourage creativity and support those folks that are following their passion, whether it's innovation in programming or innovation in playmaking. We don't [say] that creativity is limited to the traditional performing arts. Rather, it extends to all passions." And when Fisher says "all," she really means all, as the plays that make up The Love Sonatas reflect the foundation's all-encompassing mission, incorporating video, visual art, 3-D animation, projections, and live music, along with those elements found in all traditional theatrical presentations.

While the plays technically are part of the foundation's Playing With Fire program, they had a long genesis. "Writing a cycle of five plays was certainly not planned or intentional on my part," says Zarate. "When I started the first one, I wasn't thinking that that's what I was doing. I finished the first draft of the first piece, Foursquare, in 1991, and some folks saw it, and they said, 'Hey, you know, you can write.' At that time, I didn't consider myself a writer at all. I was a director, and I was looking for some interesting directing challenges, and so I wrote this particular piece. But I was also commenting on some of the issues and challenges I was having in my own life, dealing with love and a lot of the things that I was trying to explore – I didn't really have the maturity in myself to even try to approach them. Figuring out what the hell love is, at least for me. What it means to be in a relationship. What it means to think you're in a relationship. What the expectations of it are. How others think you're supposed to act or to conform. What the boundaries are."

While the plays center on a common theme and even share characters, each play stands on its own, although one character, Rodolfo, is more prominent than others. "In the cycle, we pick Rodolfo up when he is middle-aged and then move to when he's younger," says Zarate. "It's about the idea of finding someone that you care for deeply, giving them up because of choices that you believe are right, discovering later maybe you made a mistake, and then trying to go back and fix it and discovering that you really can't. It isn't about Rodolfo so much as it is about the choices he makes and how those choices are then reflected in other people."

Each of the sonatas will receive four performances, and the cycle will be performed in its entirety on a Marathon Weekend. (Saturday, May 31: FourSquare, 11am; Sonata Escondida, 3:30pm; Shards, 8pm. Sunday, June 1: Stroke, 2pm; Kuka, 6:30pm.) All performances take place at the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside. For more information about the plays, visit

Act I: Foursquare – Sunday, May 18, 8pm; Friday, May 23, 8pm; Monday, May 26, 8pm; Saturday, May 31, 11am

Act II: Sonata Escondida – Monday, May 19, 8pm; Saturday, May 24, 8pm; Wednesday, May 28, 8pm; Saturday, May 31, 3:30pm

Act III: Shards – Tuesday, May 20, 8pm; Saturday, May 24, 2pm; Thursday, May 29, 8pm; Saturday, May 31, 8pm

Act IV: Stroke – Wednesday, May 21, 8pm; Sunday, May 25, 8pm; Friday, May 30, 8pm; Sunday, June 1, 2pm

Act V: Kuka – Thursday, May 22, 8pm; Sunday, May 25, 2pm; Tuesday, May 27, 8pm; Sunday, June 1, 6:30pm

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