nytheatre.com review by Nat Cassidy
April 10, 2008
One of the most fascinating aspects of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II is its ambivalence to what may seem like, to our "modern" sensibilities, its most controversial plot point.
The story revolves around an English king whose stubborn love for (and gift bestowal upon) a courtier becomes a catalyst for war, murder, and usurpation by the governing lords and pontiffs. The courtier happens to be male.
However, the play itself is not an exploration of high-reigning homosexuality, or the effects of a forbidden relationship in a religious country—rather, like Shakespeare's Richard II (a play with myriad similarities to Marlowe's piece), the playwright's interest is in showing the ripple effect of a king's short-sighted decisions, justified by an "I am the king, so there" attitude, that eventually leads to his downfall. Edward's sexual orientation is not his fatal flaw—his impulsiveness and blind allegiance are. Marlowe's text gives a frank, judgment-free appraisal of his king's sexuality; he knows Edward's undoing was not so easily attributed to homophobia.
However, in the Queens Players' production of Edward II currently running at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, the moment the king's lover Gaveston enters in a skin tight outfit, open at the waist to reveal a tribal navel tattoo, we know that we will not be given so objective a telling. This in itself is not a flaw; though it is not explicitly supported by the text, there is mileage to be found in exploring that side of the story.
The problem with this production, directed by Richard Mazda, lies with its negligence of the emotional truths behind such an interpretation; a negligence borne mostly out of a fast and furious attack on the text that leaves nothing but the most violent, general emotions in its wake.
An illustrative example: when Gaveston returns after a long exile to be by his royal love's side, welcomes are exchanged, bodies are touched, and mouths are explored. The whole thing takes about a minute. We delve straight into the lust between Gaveston and Edward.
Not seen in that integral moment is the immense love that must be felt by these two men, nor their pains at being separated, nor their wonder at reunion—absolutely necessary ingredients if we are to believe that Edward will so cavalierly eschew his royal duties to be with the "one who loves me," particularly so if the production is trying to call as much attention as it can to Edward and Gaveston's homosexuality.
The speed and attack of this moment of reunion oversimplifies their relationship; by playing up the lust angle, it makes it all but impossible to care about either character—it seems like they love each other just to piss everyone else off. Likewise, since we aren't provided with any real textual references to the king's detractors' stance on homosexuality, we need time to register the reactions of those around this lusty pair. But we just get that they're immediately angry.
Expedience is the double-edged sword of this production. It runs a lean 90 minutes (not including intermission), but is unfortunately lean of nuance, as well. Mazda has staged it tennis-court style with a dovetailing fluidity between scenes that is never boring (save an overly long musical intro), but that energy tends to contribute to a similar feeling to the delivery of text. In the rush, the arguments and speeches become declarative and monochromatic. The show becomes a tennis match of petulance.
This isn't to say there aren't things to recommend about the production. Daniel Wolfe's final scene as Edward is genuinely affecting, and each member of the 14-person cast had a moment of electricity—but they all tend to be while yelling or crying. I sense potential in the Queens Players. Perhaps it was an opening-weekend energy that will dissipate over the length of the run. But the best thing for this current production to do would be to take a collective breath and find the humanity in the story they're telling, outside of the anger and tears.