Edward the King
nytheatre.com review by Micah Bucey
May 15, 2008
Toward the end of the first act of Edward The King, David Brendan Hopes's sly but stiff update of Christopher Marlowe's classic tragedy, Edward assures his wife Isabella: "It doesn't have to end well. It only has to be well for a little while." Hopes seems to use this line as his mantra, crafting a lukewarm romance that alternates between short spurts of witty, biting comedy and longer bouts of distracting camp parody. The cast is game, the production values high, and the talent involved apparent, but ultimately, things just don't heat up enough to fully justify the play's inevitable hot-poker of an ending.
This struggle to find the right tone isn't immediately apparent. Hopes smartly begins the play with three duet scenes depicting the meeting, seduction, and outing of Prince Edward by scrappy street urchin Piers Gaveston. Under Sidney J. Burgoyne's direction, these short scenes simmer with the excitement of new-found love and uninhibited sexuality. The flirty tango of Chad Hoeppner's confused prince and Brian Charles Rooney's sassy hustler is always engaging, if at times a tad cold.
Things start to muddle in the subsequent palace scenes, where Isabella, Edward's seemingly forward-thinking, understanding wife, and Mortimer, a soldier and Isabella's sometime lover, are thrown into the mix. Megan McQuillan, lovely and strong in her first scene, has the unenviable task of creating a character who goes from inhabiting a voice of modern reason in the first act to performing what I can only describe as a complete turn to clear villainy in the play's more pot-boiler second act. Similarly, Patrick Porter's Mortimer is never given a chance to grow into a full-blooded being, despite Porter's delicious line delivery and vulpine stage presence. Both act as foils to our heroes' undying love, but without clear arcs to follow, they appear as mere flaccid evil doers straight out of a Walt Disney animated feature.
Once Edward is crowned king and Gaveston begins to move up in the ranks of his heart and kingdom, the production loses its footing. Hoeppner and Rooney, so convincing in their eager devotion at the start, are left to join McQuillan and Porter in playing out a long checklist of betrayals and seductions. Even the arrival of a conniving Bishop, played with a gleeful sneer by Jo Ann Cunningham, fails to up the stakes to anything above a low boil. Only a short scene between Edward's two lovers, in which Rooney and McQuillan are able to break free of the script's bawdy humor to bleed genuine emotion and rage, gives the proceedings any amount of gravity.
Burgoyne's production team adds the requisite amount of slick, shadowy design elements that do their best to remind us that this is a story that will not end well. Michael Hotopp's economical set and Graham T. Posner's stark lighting are especially effective. But all of these worthy elements are left to drag the story along as the body count rises and our characters limp to a finish that, while intended as a winking toast to the ironic meaninglessness of revenge, comes off as a tacked-on coda with little to do with what's come before.
Somehow, though, with all my caveats, the entire evening is an intermittently enjoyable one, even with its missteps. The production boldly embraces its epic pedigree and attempts something one rarely sees in the theatre or anywhere else these days: a usually bold, often funny, unabashedly romantic tragedy. In the midst of the unfurling madness, Isabella rebuts her husband's whining with a curt "Get used to your hopes being dashed. It's the human condition." At its disappointing conclusion, I might remember Edward The King as an overlong mess of a play with only occasional flashes of greatness, but I must admit that it does do pretty well at being just that.