Friday, February 16, 2001

ETC interns shine in 'Love's Fire'

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Love's Fire, an intriguing lark that partners seven contemporary playwrights with Shakespearian sonnets, is midway through a very short run (through Sunday) at Ensemble Theatre.

        The bare-bones Off Center/On Stage entry is being used to showcase the theater company's interns, and overall it's a good show for the fledgling ensemble at a good price — $10.

        Eric Bogosian's comic opening sketch about an unfaithful soon-to-be-bride sets the tone for the evening. Infidelity, misery, unrequited love and dissatisfaction are rampant. Shakespeare's sonnets are all about the tragedy of love.

        For a fan of contemporary drama, part of the fun of Love's Fire is seeing work by some very big names — Tony (Angels in America) Kushner, Wendy (An American Daughter) Wasserstein, Marsha ('night, Mother) Norman — and seeing how they stack up against each other.

        Mr. Kushner and John Guare, whose works end the first and second acts, respectively, easily win the night. Both in love with language, they write wonderful flights of fancy firmly and clearly anchored to their Shakespearian sources.

        Both pieces are directed by intern director Robert Rais, who shows his directing charges how it's done. I hope they took notes.

        The other part of the fun is seeing real developing talent.

        The acting company stand-outs are Ken Baldino in a variety of roles and Alex Domeyko.

        Mr. Domeyko gives the evening's big performance as a confused gay man convinced he's in love with his lesbian therapist (a nice Kristy Minor) who has her own problems (including a ticking biological clock) in Mr. Kushner's smart, occasionally riotous Terminating. Mr. Domeyko holds his own in three other pieces as well.

        Among the evening's better entries is a movement poem by Ntozake Shange directed by Ms. Minor. Elizabeth Ann Harris and Brian Givens contribute an easy and dynamic presence.

        The disaster of the program belongs to Wendy Wasserstein's Waiting for Philip Glass, about a name-dropping party in the Hamptons where women have names like Holden and Spencer and talk about Mike (Nichols), Diane (Sawyer) and Henry (Kissinger) and feel very, very empty.

        While Glass hasn't much to say, what little there is is completely unraveled by these Midwestern kids who can't have heard of the Hamptons. Director M. Patrick Deavy should have handed out copies of The New Yorker or sat them down to watch hours of Martha Stewart until they got it.

        Happily, everyone shines in Mr. Guare's finale, a clever playlet-within-a-playlet that has acting students improving the story of the Old Testament and all that comes after.

        He goofs on Shakespeare, with the students referring to Cliff Notes, Pelican, Monarch, Chambers, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard and more to find the meaning of it, despite the timely interferences of a less-than-merciful God. It's heady stuff and worth waiting for.
       Love's Fire, 8 p.m. through Sunday, Ensemble Theatre, 421-3555.


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- ETC interns shine in 'Love's Fire'
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