Edward II
March 30, 2013
The Rogue in New Theatre Project, Reviews, new/original plays

The New Theatre Project is no stranger to the fresh, exciting, unconventional, and downright rebellious; the company’s history has seen it layer a sexy edge onto several older works, stories, and literary figures. Now, in reimagining the dramatic history of a misfit party-boy king, the world-premiere production of Edward II (adapted by Jason Sebacher from the much-longer-titled Christopher Marlowe play) primarily embraces, rather than strays from, these themes. Yet here, under the direction of Keith Paul Medelis, although the play’s central story of forbidden love spits at convention, it’s the cunning machinations of the aghast status-quo types that send up sparks.

How do you solve a problem like King Edward II (Chris Jakob), the recently ascended English monarch who loves the unquestioned liberties of royalty almost as much as he hates the establishment or responsibility of any stripe? But while his chemical excesses are disruptive and his behavior blatantly hostile to his own stuffy court, the root of the problem appears to be the favors and confidence Edward bestows on his hardly secret male lover, Piers Gaveston (John Denyer). Whether homosexuality itself is the predominant strike against the king, or whether his reactionary boorish behavior or his problematic favoritism is what’s rankling the institution, is left blurred — attempted proclamations and policy meetings are inseparable from boundary-pushing scenes of revelry and heat (including frank displays of nudity and simulated sex). Edward’s story is one of blessed power and cursed duty, seen through the lens of insubordinate youth; for his part, Jakob acts the hell out of the role, ascribing breathless fullness to his every juvenile emotion.

Despite the liberal drinking, drug use, and corrosive profanity flung about, Sebacher’s adaptation is no free-for-all. There’s a balance here, particularly with respect to blending old and new language, that proves wonderfully instructive about social class and upbringing — gently revealing who’s capable of using loftier words and constructions, and how and whether they’re implemented. In practice, the device plays out in skittering atonal opposition, intentionally mirrored by Medelis’s production design, with interstitial music making similar record-skip jumps. One of the only elements remaining stately throughout is the setting, a candlelit great hall of sorts through which the players sweep in and out in dovetailed scenes. The look and sound of the production indulges in the finery befitting a king and his court, but the play also scratches and digs at what lies underneath.

And this is what makes Edward II a fascinating exercise, when all is said and done. For Edward and his consort, what lies underneath is proudly paraded debauchery, and a relationship borne out of romance, lust, benefit, or some combination therein; it’s raw, but also not terribly deep to delve. In contrast, Edward’s adversarial advisers — his resentful passed-over brother Kent (Artun Kircali), and his painted Queen Isabel (Andrew Papa) — display a level of political conniving as fathomless as it is unpredictably riveting. Kircali is admirably flustered through bouts of attempting to reason with his unreasonable brother; however, it’s Papa who walks away with his scenes, the very picture of restraint, whose diabolical cunning grows to near-mythical heights of dominance when surrounded by petulance and weakness. Together, the schemers conspire and motivate to restore level-headed rule to England, at whatever personal or political cost.

At a scant 70 minutes straight through, this Edward II doesn’t set out to be much of a history lesson. The production’s bullet points of plot don’t purport to recount King Edward II’s chronicled life or reign, even by Marlowe’s understanding, and leave emotional gaps in a salacious half-told love story. In all, the show’s best attribute is the dubiously motivated power grab that is copiously arranged and stunningly arrived at. This iteration of Edward proves too determinedly static to keep the helm of his own story; instead, he is swept up — along with the viewer — toward his own callously brutal fate.

Edward II is no longer playing.
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