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Bard’s ‘Immortal’ women refuse to suffer slings & arrows

Shakespeare's female characters get to further pursue their dreams in "Immortal Longings."

Shakespeare's female characters get to further pursue their dreams in "Immortal Longings."

Revisionist literature? Well, sure, why not? Joseph McGrath the founding artistic director of The Rogue Theatre decided to start moving around some of Shakespeare’s most famous ladies, exploring their possible needs as people living outside the pages of their famous stories.

Titling the work “Immortal Longings,” he begins imagining how Juliet (Dallas Thomas) would have enjoyed getting to know Romeo a little better. From here, he creates an entire society of literary ladies fulfilling their dreams.

It’s a little bit like journalists wondering what it would be like to live in an enlightened culture where the role of journalism was revered; where those who served as watchdogs to guard the public’s interests were considered valued members of society.

McGrath so immersed himself in the possibilities, he even caught the longer rhythms and elaborate sentence structure of Shakespeare’s time. It must have been a bit like speaking in tongues, letting the spirit take him over as angry Kate (Alida Holguin Gunn), cold-blooded Lady Macbeth (Cynthia Meier), gender-bending Viola (Holly-Marie Carlson), airy Ophelia (Laine Peterson), stately Portia (Lesley Abrams), quick-tongued Beatrice (Avis Judd), witty Rosalind (Chelsea Bowdren), queenly Cleopatra (Susan Arnold) and the most unfortunate Desdemona (Maxine Gillespie) joined Juliet to air their differences with the Bard.

Viola and Rosalind, given their Shakespearian conception as women pretending to be men, continue this dual purposing of gender to help facilitate the play’s structure. There isn’t a plot, exactly, but a trial. In the opening scene, Juliet interrupts her own death scene to complain she is tired of dying. After centuries of frustration, she wants to live!

Portia steps forward to be the judge, appointing Viola and Rosalind – both attired in manly garb – to be the judge’s attendants. The other prominent women who sprung from Shakespeare’s pen would step forward to testify both for and against Juliet’s request. In a most judicial voice Portia calls to order a court she describes as “a gathering of queens, cross-dressers, murderers and shrews.”

To keep audience members brushed up on their Shakespeare, each woman gets to enact one famous scene from her own story. Viola and Rosalind, dressed for their “trouser roles,” play whatever men are needed for the appropriate accompaniment.

Then the ladies each make a speech defending her position on Juliet’s plea to live a little longer. Thomas, as the star-crossed teen holding a bottle of poison, is impressive stepping out of Juliet’s traditional personality but staying in character to ask for a better deal than fate has handed her.

Juliet’s main opposition comes from an imposing Meier, dominant in her red gown and gold crown as Lady Macbeth. Snuffing out any hopes Juliet had to make her case, Lady M’s smothering accusations give Juliet fits.

“Have you no mercy,” the girl finally cries out in frustration.

“Have you read my play?” snaps Lady Macbeth, getting a big laugh.

But it is Ophelia, providing the comedy relief, who makes the strongest impression. Peterson steals her every scene, playing Ophelia in a long, white, ghostly dress with trailing strands of seaweed and water plants wrapped around her neck.

Completely mad, yet glowing with a guileless innocence, she charms everyone with her simple-minded manner. At times, her stage image is also strangely reminiscent of Stevie Nicks during her rock ‘n’ roll days with Fleetwood Mac. A rather fascinating interpretation, when you think about it.

As for the resolution, well that is the whole point of this play, isn’t it. McGrath is clever enough to sidestep any strident ending. Wisdom will make its own points.



What: The Rogue Theatre presents the world première of “Immortal Longings” by Joseph McGrath

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, to April 5; preshow Elizabethan music 15 minutes before each curtain

Where: Zuzi’s Dance Theatre, 738 N. Fifth Ave.

Price: $20 general admission; pay-what-you-will Thursday and April 2

Info: 551-2053, www.theroguetheatre.org

grade: B

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