What a marvel: “Edward II”

(l to r) Edward II (Maurice Emmanuel Parent), Gaveston (Eddie Shields), and Lancaster (Nigel Gore) – Photo by Maggie Hall

Presented by Actors’ Shakespeare Project
By Christopher Marlowe
Directed by David R. Gammons

February 22 – March 19, 2017
Charlestown Working Theater
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Review by Gillian Daniels

WARNING: Nudity, violence.

(I beg forgiveness from the cast and crew of Edward II! I was trapped on the west coast during the blizzard, and only returned last night. It was not possible to post Ms. Daniels’ review until then. My sincerest apologies, and best wishes for a closing weekend! – Kitty, the Queen Geek)

(Charlestown, MA)  This show is intense. I could feel my temples vibrate during intermission. The power and emotion has stayed with me for days. I cried during the show, afterward, and grew teary remembering it. I am not at all surprised the production has added more performances to its tight schedule. This is a melodrama realized with an expert, brutal hand.

King Edward II (Maurice Emmanuel Parent) is involved in a love affair with Gavestan (Eddie Shields). His court is scandalized not by the same-sex romance but by his favoritism of Gavestan, here portrayed as a sassy, amoral provocateur happy to insult anyone he dislikes. His open flamboyance angers Lord Mortimer (Alex Pollock, who draws his villain cartoonishly, strangely) and the Earl of Lancaster (Nigel Gore, a slightly more noble personage who seems wonderfully bitter and jealous).

Edward II is forced to exile his boyfriend, the light of his life regardless of how the rest of the court views them. He is not happy. He rages and falls head first into a great melancholy, but his neglected wife, Queen Isabella (Jennie Israel), opts to try and bring Gavestan back to him in order to gain favor. In the background, waifish Prince Edward III (David J. Castillo, perfectly cast) radiates fear over his father’s excesses. He clings to his mother as he begins to get caught in the surrounding machinations.

What brightens and broadens the scope of a fairly straightforward tragedy is the show’s style. The stage is one part tiled, gay, bath house and one part underground bunker, with characters leering behind great beams and tortured (when appropriate) under showers. The lighting is superb and, certainly, the use of a water fountain to invoke a makeshift-chapel is inspired. I was astounded and reminded of Julie Taylor’s time-tripping spin on Titus Andronicus.

There are moments of dark humor marbled throughout the tragedy of the show. With an opening monologue, Gavestan makes himself the audience’s winking confidant.

Less successful is the moustache-twirling villany of Mortimer. During a pivotal scene, he begins to whistle the Village People’s “YMCA” in order to further mock the story’s gay heroes. Rather than intimidating or a moment of character-building, it just feels needlessly mean-spirited. It doesn’t fit nor make sense. The night I went, Pollock’s delivery felt off. Maybe the actor has access to secrets his character refuses to disclose to the audience. Whatever those secrets are, they are buried deep in a persona that mostly feels flat and dastardly.

Much of the credit for the show’s success can be given to Sound Designer David Wilson. He seamlessly blends the feel of ’80’s excess with music from the decade with music that simply has the same feel. Specifically lovely is the use of “Just (From Song of Songs)” by David Lang, which is used as Edward II and Gavestan engage in dance that implies not just love making but an incredible intimacy and trust. Christopher Marlowe may have wanted to use an interest in men to make Edward II seem immoral and excessive, but here, his love for Gavestan is his most redeeming feature, his purest and most noble quality.

Now, this being a tragedy, it should surprise no one this play is listed under the “Bury Your Gays” page on TVTropes.com. Spoilers, maybe, but this is a classic tragedy. If you are the sort of viewer who has become very tired of watching queer characters die in various media, this is likely not your show. Yet the execution of this element is done with thoughtfulness and grace in a moment I found genuinely moving–perhaps a moment that made the show for me. If fiction is meant to serve as an empathy machine, than this is a crowning moment.

Queen’s Note:
we elected a thin-skinned bigot to the office of the President dead set on turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. His plan to slash the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities is HERE. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so. Fight him. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

Sign the petition to protect the National Endowment HERE.

#blacklivesmatter #translivesmatter #brownlivesmatter #yellowlivesmatter #lgbtqialivesmatter #immigrantlivesmatter #muslimlivesmatter #disabledlivesmatter #theatreartsmatter #NODAPL


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