At intermission I turned to my partner and said enthusiastically, “This is delightful!” Slouched in his chair, his hair ruffled and eyes glazed, he looked up at me solemnly and replied, “I have no idea what's going on right now.”
So, here's the thing about Immortal Longings: It is delightful. Delightful is the only word for this thoughtful play by Joseph McGrath in its execution at The Vortex Theatre under the direction of Kathleen Welker, but ... it is only delightful if you have a working knowledge of Shakespeare. The jokes have more hilarious depth if you've read Othello, the characters' updated monologues are more insightful if you've ever had cause to really ponder Macbeth (Have you? It's pretty frightening). So, I'm going to go ahead and out myself as a Shakespeare nerd and continue on with the understanding that you're with me on this.
The play opens with Juliet (played with youthful buoyancy by Caroline Patz) at the side of her Romeo. Just as she unsheathes her dagger and prepares to kill herself there is a full pause. Juliet wants to live. The play unfolds as she makes the case for a revision of her story to a panel of female characters from Shakespeare's canon—Portia, Kate, Beatrice, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Ophelia, Desdemona, Viola and Rosalind. Key scenes from Shakespeare are played out, highlighting central points about death, bitterness, love and the vibration of certain themes across centuries. The play explores alternate histories for these women and by proxy, questions the sanctity of their creator.
Alternately derisive or deeply contemplative, the play elegantly addresses the vague, unrelenting question we all ask: “What if?” And more directly it asks—Will Juliet live? Should Juliet live? What is the cost of rewriting her ending with a bend toward happiness instead of tragedy? That is the crux of the play and what drives it to a surprising conclusion, an ending with the kind of substance and finality that I always hope for, but rarely experience. It is a testament to McGrath's skill as a writer and Welker's as a director—Immortal Longings is written and delivered with deftness and heart.
If you like Shakespeare, you’ll find this play deeply satisfying as it queries the resonance of the bard throughout the ages. Find out if Juliet will live at The Vortex Theatre. Immortal Longings runs every weekend until May 22.