Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
William Shakespeare's women get short shrift (or worse) in many of his plays, and Juliet is having none of it. She doesn't understand why, at 14, she must die along with her Romeo. In Joseph McGrath's Immortal Longings her eminent sisters make the case for or against Juliet's untimely end.
Subtitled "An Argument Erupts Among Shakespeare's Greatest Women," the play's conceit is a "trial" presided over by Portia from The Merchant of Venice, the only one among them with courtroom experience. But this ensemble is anything but contentious. In every gesture and word toward the petulant young Juliet, the women state their opinions kindly and with great compassion, ever mindful of their places in the literary Pantheonand hers.
To support their opinions, yea or nay, the other women enact scenes from their plays as cases in point. Viola, Rosalind, Portia, Kate and Beatrice have all survived their plots, like Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Cleopatra, and Ophelia have not. Playwright McGrath's language seamlessly dovetails with the scenes from Shakespeare, with a few more laughs thrown in. The biggest laugh? When Ophelia characterizes the basis of the trial by blurting out: "To be, or not to be."
Speaking of Ophelia, let's give each actress her due, as these are some of the best in Albuquerque. The clever and versatile Bridget S. Dunne is the mad Ophelia, dispensing her herbs to the cast and audience. She's like your ditsy friend who seems totally detached, until she comes down to earth to call you on your hogwash. To me, Ophelia is the conscience of the play, while Portia (Sheridan Johnson) keeps the troupe in order. Johnson brings a fresh, mature, and lively take to her role. Lady Macbeth (Kristin Elliott) and Cleopatra (Angela Littleton) are royalty and as such sit apart for most of the proceedings. When called upon to give their scenes, Elliott and Littleton do their ladies proud. These actors live up to their archetypes.
Pip Lustgarten and Emily Carvey are Viola and Rosalind, also playing the major male roles. Lustgarten is a fervent, acrobatic Romeo and Carvey plays Benedick, Petruchio, and other men with variety and verve. Her sword fight as Tybalt with Lustgarten is well choreographed and "manly fought."
Caroline Patz is a perfect 14-year-old Juliet, especially in the balcony scene. Her movements and cadence of speech evoke a teenage girl for the ages and chuckles from audience members familiar with the species.
On Juliet's side are Evening Star Barron as Kate from The Taming of the Shrew and Christy Lopez as Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. Barron's beauty and bearing are a contrast to her earthy, combative role and she uses her talent to great effect. You can feel pity for her crappy marriage while you admire her ultimate acceptance of it. Lopez's Beatrice can stand up to any man, including Benedick, and her wit and physical energy are refreshing and funny.
Jessica Osbourne deserves special mention as Desdemona. The actor's demeanor throughout is one of sad puzzlement. As another character notes, her man (Othello) loved her and yet killed her. It's a tougher, more nuanced role than some others in this play, and Osbourne carries it off with poise and grace.
Director Kathleen Welker also designed the minimal set, and the raised steps show off the characters without distracting. Props hung on wall pegs on either side give us the feel of a Shakespeare festival or a master class. Costumes by Samantha Conrad range from Portia's little black dress to dip-dyed gowns and Romeo's artful ribbon tunic. This variety is pleasing and girly and a lot of fun.
When you go, take a young person, for this play is at once a feast for Shakespeare lovers and an introduction to some of his best-known characters. Be prepared to answer questions.
Through May 22, 2016, Friday-Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m., The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle NE, (505) 247-8600, vortexabq.org