Review: New Theatre Project’s Edward II

EdwardII

Photo stolen from New Theatre Project’s facebook page.

On a whim, we decided to go see Edward II last night at the Mix Studio Theatre—a venue I’ve had many good intentions of hitting up, but it took a stir-crazy end-of-winter Saturday night to finally motivate me to try something new.

My expectations were low, abysmally so. I checked out the New Theatre Project, and they’re all about putting on new work, being experimental, breaking the “fourth wall” and giving chances to new actors—all great goals in theory, but I’ve sat through enough bad productions to know that this isn’t typically a recipe for success.

My doubt dissipated within the first few minutes. The show opens with the monologue from Christopher Marlowe’s original 1593 work, delivered so sincerely and melodically by John Denyer (who plays Piers Galveston, the king’s “favorite”) that you barely notice the king (Chris Jakob) standing naked and silent as he’s robed and crowned.

In the short dance scene that follows, the sexual tension between Galveston and the King is thick enough to cut, while the subtle intrigues of Queen Isabella (Andrew Papa) and Mortimer (Artun Kircali) are masked by feigned propriety. The music and style of dance alternates between the lightly touching fingers of an Elizabethan court pavane and intensely sexy grinding (and more) to club music. These themes are carried throughout the show as the playwright takes Marlowe’s text for a wild, intense, and often very funny joy ride and the actors slip seamlessly between the two styles. (Incidentally, I don’t see a playwright’s name anywhere… is this an ensemble-written show? If so i’m even more impressed.)

The Theatre itself is tiny, with 24 seats arranged on both sides of a narrow landing strip of a stage. They did a beautiful job with a minimalist set (one chair) and lighting. Candles in hanging lanterns made the already-intimate space even more so while also invoking the Catholic traditions (and lighting technology) of the time. (I have plenty more lighting designer geek notes but will spare you those.)

Spoiler alert in place from here on:
The pared-down plot is pretty simple. Spoiled, selfish party boy Edward II ignores important matters of state (like the invasion of his country) because wants nothing more than to pop pills and fuck his lover, Galveston. His wife and brother (who are also fucking), are sick of picking up the pieces, so they plot to overthrow him and exile Galveston. They do so. People die. The end!

This could have been done well or poorly, but Chris Jakob’s acting brings it all home. You feel bad for a man who has found happiness and is having it wrenched from him, but he’s also so incredibly whiny and bossy and immature that you really want to smack him and tell him to grow the hell up. It’s like he’s managed to find a sympathetic version King Joffrey from Game of Thrones—no easy feat.

Photo via New Theatre Project's facebook page.

Photo stolen from the New Theatre Project’s facebook page.

By the end, when he’s broken down and imprisoned and his lover is exiled and then killed, you cringe at the injustice of it but also agree that the country is probably better off without him (historically, anyway, it probably was.) Still, just because he’s a bad king and an irresponsible person doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. Seems pretty rough to lock him up in a dungeon for being incompetent at a job he never asked for, even if it is 1327 (this all actually happened, btw.) Anyway, maybe there’s a good reason most countries don’t give crowns to teenagers anymore.

The whole show was honestly and artfully delivered and remarkably true to the original work (at least, to what I read about it on Wikipedia.) Thankfully, though, it isn’t the middle ages and our producers were kind enough to offer us a happy ending. In it, the actors playing Galveston and the King meet, in modern clothes, in a club. The king is shy and hesitant, with a humility that was never present in the rest of the play and even a hint of maturity when he tells the assertive Galveston that “pleasure isn’t everything.” But pleasure is something, and Galveston ushers him into the scene, they dance and start to fall in love.

It’s as if they’ve been given a second chance to meet, in the future, where being gay isn’t a crime and where they can enjoy themselves, make their own mistakes and grow up a little more slowly instead of being handed expectations and roles without their consent. It’s a future I’d like to live in.