Unique, dark, mysterious, slightly comical and set against an intriguing historic backdrop. That’s how I would best describe American legend Terrence McNally’s newest play, which received a standing ovation during its premiere at Austin’s beloved ZACH theatre.
The four-time Tony Award winner’s Immortal Longings explores the history of Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev’s itinerant and hugely influential Russian ballet company, Ballet Russes. Surrounded by great talents of art, design and music the play explores a tempestuous relationship between the group’s leader, Diaghilev, and dance icon Vaslav Nijinksy. The play is a thoroughly revised version of Fire and Air, which premiered at Classic Stage Company in New York City in 2018.
For his Austin audience, McNally, who’s also an LGBT activist, wanted to change things up a little. “Few plays are flawless at their world premiere. Plays are not written, they are re-written. I knew in New York that the play was not finished to my satisfaction and I was grateful when ZACH invited me to finish my work on the play with a new director, a new cast, and most importantly, a new text,” said McNally. “A change of title, even after a first production, is not an unusual part of a play’s journey. Away We Go in Boston became Oklahoma! before Broadway.”
Full disclaimer: the play is not recommended for anyone younger than 17 because of language and full nudity, so leave the kids at home for this one!
I appreciated Immortal Longings’ take on history. Set around the beginning of the 20th century, it was interesting to see the differences between society 100 years ago versus today. The dancing in Immortal Longings was graceful and peaceful to watch. The costumes were very elaborate and nicely done.
Actors Steven Epp as Diaghilev and Wyatt Fenner as Nijinksy did an excellent job of portraying two men who left such a legacy in the world of western culture. Both actors were especially animated and brought a lot of uniqueness to the production.
It’s especially exciting that this play is new, even though it seems like it could be a classic. This important aspect of McNally’s latest is something the play’s art director stresses. “Classic plays we love like A Streetcar Named Desire or Death of a Salesman were once new plays,” said Dave Steakley, Producing Artistic Director at ZACH. “It is important for the future of our culture that we are always creating new work that may become one of these lasting legacies that impacts generations of readers and writers to come.”
Cover: (L to R) Stephen Epp, James Patrick Nelson, Shannon Koob and Wyatt Fenner. Photo Kirk Tuck