Juliet has gone rogue.
Just as Shakespeare’s youngest heroine reaches the point where she’s supposed to kill herself, she rebels, declaring she is just a teenager and that she should be allowed to live.
Joseph McGrath’s “Immortal Longings: An Argument Erupts Among Shakespeare’s Greatest Women” explores Juliet’s argument with 10 of Shakespeare’s leading ladies in front of a judge. Should Juliet follow her scripted doom, or can she write her own happy ending?
The Vortex Theatre has invited the cross-dressing Viola (“Twelfth Night”), the brave and witty Rosalind (“As You Like It”), the sharp-tongued Kate (“The Taming of the Shrew”), the innocent Desdemona (“Othello”), the calculating Lady Macbeth (“Macbeth”), the bouncy Beatrice, (“Much Ado About Nothing”), the jealous Cleopatra (“Antony and Cleopatra”), and the frail and mad Ophelia (“Hamlet”), to present arguments from their own plays.
Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra are the purists arguing that Juliet should play it safe and keep to the canon.
“The Merchant of Venice’s” Portia, the only Shakespearian heroine with courtroom experience, must decide Juliet’s fate.
“I was looking for a showcase for female actors; something that was Shakespeare, but not a Shakespeare play,” director Kathleen Welker said.
For the most part, Shakespeare’s women have orbited around their men. Playwright McGrath wants to change that. He once referred to his play as a comedy about tragedy.
The prologue opens with the 14-year-old Juliet’s death scene before she steps out of character and demands a rewrite. The play continues with each character giving her testimony, illustrated by related scenes from their own plays.
Using a combination of Shakespeare’s words and his own blank verse, McGrath has given 10 of the author’s women a voice beyond their own story and the opportunity to comment on each other’s plots and predicaments.
This symphony of Shakespeare lured actors from across Albuquerque, Welker said.
“The interest in the female actor community in Albuquerque was tremendous,” she said. “I had 10 roles. I had 50 women come out, so I was just thrilled.”
In another twist on the Globe Theater’s testosterone-fueled company, the women also play the men’s roles. In Shakespeare’s day, men or boys dressed in drag to play the women.
An overarching theme of destiny or fate hovers across the stage.
“Immortal Longings” premiered in 2009 at the Rogue Theatre in Tucson, where McGrath is the artistic director. The Vortex production opens Friday, April 29.