Terrence McNally has revised his previous Fire and Air to bring forth Immortal Longings, and Austin’s ZACH Theatre was recently poised to host the world premier with McNally in attendance.
On the cusp of the Russian Revolution, Immortal Longings puts the central focus on Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev (Steven Epp) and his romantic and artistic obsession with Vaslav Nijinsky (Wyatt Fenner), a young dancer proving reluctant to use the older man's affection to further his career. Over the course of roughly seven years, we see Diaghilev deal with the emotional turmoil of dismissing his muse, after Nijinsky marries a [female] dancer while on tour. Diaghilev pushes forward, naming Leonide Massine (Joshua Pagan) as Nijinsky’s successor, both on stage and in his heart.
From a historical lens, it’s difficult to sympathize with Diaghilev — he was a bit of a jerk to Nijinsky and drastically undercut him financially — but when compared to the lives of those around him, keep in mind, this is a man that ran in the same circles as Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinski, Diaghilev is more Nick Carroway than Jay Gatsby; within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled. McNally touts Diaghilev’s legacy and greatness by reducing the that of most of the characters surrounding him, relegating his co-stars to the role of situational springboard to launch one of his intellectual rants — though, his rants are often masterful prose sprinkled with gems.
Steven Epp gives a highly dynamic performance as Diaghilev, with a vast range of emotion of full display, Epp brings life to the character as we see the beyond the eccentric, gilded veil of his public persona to the forlorn artist struggling with his own mortality and vulnerability.
Fenner’s Nijinsky, while visually appealing, feels shallow in a supporting role. He serves as both Diaghilev’s foil and — to some extent — his antagonist, but the character doesn’t seem to have the depth and intensity to suggest the underlying mental illness that he ultimately succumbs to. Fenner portrays a sense of internal conflict that could have been explored more, but nonetheless serves to keep the focus on Diaghilev.
Pagan’s performance rivaled that of Fenner’s Nijinsky. The character feels far too arrogant, as if he is already aware of the legacy he had not yet left behind; but perhaps it was that confidence and self-assuredness that elevated a young dancer to Diaghilev’s line of sight. Together, these three and their cohorts bring an atmosphere that’s an authentic mix of morose and jovial moments that many could relate to.
I won’t pretend to understand ballet any more than the average Austinite, but what McNally has created goes deeper than arabesques and pirouettes. What he has brought to the stage is a comedic drama that reveals the tumultuous life of a man desperately longing for the passion he cannot seem to sustain. His over-the-top demand for the Ballets Russes to be transcendent is only rivaled by his longing for requited love from his muse.
Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set unafraid to take on topics head on. He now resides in Austin, TX and continues to create content on a daily basis.