No Such Roses
nytheatre.com review by Terri Galvin
August 15, 2004
Official disclaimer: I am a Sonnet-holic. I adore, revere, and exalt in all 154 of Shakespeare’s anguished musings on love, mortality, and time. For Halloween I dress up as the Dark Lady, and if I had a slogan it might be “You give me three quatrains and a couplet, and I’ll give you the world.” And since I have no desire to be in recovery, one can only imagine how enthusiastically I anticipated this show.
In No Such Roses: Sonnets that are Nothing Like the Sun, co-writers Michelle O’Connor and Akyiaa Wilson offer a series of vignettes wherein contemporary American English alternates with gems like Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? as characters confront themes that have plagued lovers since the days of Elizabeth I and her errant Lord Devereaux. From a control-freak Bride-zilla and her cold-footed fianca, (not to mention her best friend, pining for the groom), to a songwriter with trust issues, there’s ample ground here for the wealth of infatuation, betrayal, and despair expressed so divinely by the Bard four centuries ago. A sonnet-phile’s dream, no?
Alack! Beshrew my heart, if I didst not most prodigiously desire it to be so.
The sad (or brilliant, depending on your perspective) reality is that the sonnets are, by nature, inwardly contemplative, rather than externally dynamic. It’s hardly that they lack drama, but that the dramatic tension unfolds within a self-contained deliberation, one that’s asserted, debated, and resolved (however tenuously) in a scant fourteen lines. True, the narrator addresses his beloved, but the dialogue he conducts is with himself, never requiring a reply from the Young Man or Dark Lady to be complete.
Given such constraints, it’s heartening that many of this play’s scripted scenarios do succeed. When wooing or reproaching, a well-chosen sonnet conveys the same ardent vigor of Shakespeare’s dramatic dialogue, and when the characters lament or reflect, the inherently meditative sonnets are mined for all their resonant eloquence. Other scenes, however, feel decidedly forced, as if the poor, elegantly square poem were rammed into an awkwardly round set of naturalistic circumstances. And while Anna McHugh’s stylized direction produces appealing tableaux, she doesn’t seem to have helped her cast in structuring their verse.
And yet, I can’t help but admire this courageous experiment and applaud FringeNYC in providing a forum for such interesting, creative risks. As the cast gathered in the final scene for a spellbinding, perfectly executed rendition of Sonnet 29 (When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes) I concluded that one could do far worse with one’s FringePass than spend an hour luxuriating in such exquisite imagery and romantic ruminations.
After all, Lean penury within that pen doth dwell / That to his subject lends not some small glory.