Edward II – Pain of Thrones
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Framing devices. What a bitch. On the one hand, there’s something cool about “immersive” experiences. It’s fun to grab your audience from the get go and lure them into your head space. On the other, aggressive scene setting can feel like being in line for the Snow White ride in Disney World (TM). Spotlighters attempted some of this kind of set-dressing last night for Edward II and I’d say it fell somewhere between the two poles. Before and after the show, and during intermission, costumed actors mingled with the guests while, in the background, singers regaled the crowd with hits from the 1930s. It was a little awkward (especially at the end, when the piano music started and the audience missed the cue that the bows were happening, thinking the show was still going on, which lead to a weird moment where all of the actors sort of paraded across the stage and we just blankly stared at them) but I could listen to Dyana Neal sing for a thousand years, so. It seemed like most of the audience dug it too, with the exception of one lady who crankily demanded goddamned answers from the MC in the lobby: “What am I watching here? How would I describe what I’m seeing to someone else? Some sort of what, singing pre-show?” but she was obviously a giant pill. Main meal was Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II by way of Jonas David Grey (who also plays the titular Edward). It’s 1936 and Edward (get it?) is on the throne after the death of his father, Edward I. Edward’s lover, Gaveston (Taylor Rieland) [A quick word on this: in the original play by Marlowe, the relationship between these two is deliberately murky. Marlowe calls Gaveston Edward’s “favourite”, which, according to Wikipedia: The term is also sometimes employed by conservative writers who want to avoid terms such as “royal mistress”, or “friend”, “companion” or “lover” of either sex. Several favourites had sexual relations with the monarch (or their spouse), but the feelings of the monarch for the favourite covered the full gamut from a simple faith in the favourite’s abilities, through various degrees of emotional affection and dependence, to sexual infatuation. In Grey’s adaptation, there is absolutely no question that these two are boyfriend-boyfriend. Their sexual relationship is the catalyst for the entire play and it’s done expertly.] is thrilled by this development and soon hops on over to the Royal Palace to start living the life. Edward is overjoyed to have his companion at his side, lavishing him with titles and riches. Edwards court, ring led by the ambitious Lord Mortimer (John Wright), however, is rather less than LGBTQ-friendly. Pissy about Edward’s obvious favoritism towards Gaveston and wary of this “unnatural” king, they soon start a’plottin’. They try to get Gaveston banished but soon realize that he’s a threat to their power as long as he lives, so they lure him back with the help of poor, sad Queen Isabella (Madeline Long). They band together, capture and ultimately kill Gaveston. Edward, in pain, orders the execution of two of the barons, Lord Warwick (Daniel Douek) and Lady Lancaster (Aladrian Wetzel) but it’s a little late, he hasn’t cracked down hard enough and the coup has begun. Mortimer and Isabella regroup in France, the King is seized and thrown into prison and the end is sad. The only light at the end of the tunnel is provided by Edward’s son (who, given the way Edward and Isabella mostly loathe each other, was probably conceived in one glory of a hate-fuck), Prince Edward III (Jack Connors) who eventually regains the crown. Brad Norris’s decision to place this story in the mid nineteen-thirties is really brilliant. It provides a shorthand for us to understand the implications, the precarious nature of what’s happening, the threat inherent of that place in the geography of history. I mean sure, a king is a King and such “deviancy” has always been more acceptable among the upper class, especially behind closed doors, but, given the hateful way people can be, this holds true only for so long. Just ask Oscar Wilde. Norris’s staging is strong, driving this point home, sharp as a knife. Witness the scene where the nobles tighten around the wavering queen like a noose, or the one where the King’s allies, Spencer (Matthew Payne) and Baldock (Cassandra Miller) rotate around each other, unknowingly weaving the fabric of Edward’s downfall. Nicely done. Jonas David Grey’s Edward is so fucking vital, so alive, such a joy to watch that I had trouble keeping my eyes off of him. The chemistry between he and Rieland is explosive, amazing, especially considering how young Rieland is. Their first scenes are sexily effortless, but their last meeting, in which Gaveston appears to Edward as the angel of death, is one of the best things I have ever seen staged. Props to lighting designer Lana Riggins for having the balls to do it almost in the complete dark. I would honestly see the entire show twice to see that scene again. Tragic and gentle and creepy and perfect. Stars aligned with dazzling performances from both. Absurdly good. Madeline Long is a goddamned gorgeous rose, we feel for her situation instantly even when we kind of want to kill her. She’s trembling and unpredictable and, sure, at times over-the-top. I didn’t mind. You know the French. She’s a miserable powerhouse. John Wright’s Lord Mortimer is like a kindly uncle who suddenly throws you into a death camp, the overt fascist tones of the character work right down to his unmistakable Fuehrer-like gesturing. Supporting cast is excellent too, Daniel Douek’s Lord Warwick is straight-up Hollywood hit-man scary and Aladrian Wetzel is fantastic as the conniving Lady Lancaster. She’s cool and elegant and bites her words like she’s eating meat, rips them with sharp teeth and spits them out. Heather Johnston is effective and impressive in an understated role as the double-crossing Lady Kent, Edward’s sister. Matthew Payne and Cassandra Miller also make a compelling duo as Edward’s last friends, with Miller bringing the hotness (but maybe that’s because I love a girl who can wield two knives at once). I especially liked them in a scene near the end where they entreat heaven as they’re captured for good. Cassandra Dutt pops in and out and has some great big stormy moments in Edward’s prison cell. And Jack Conners as the young prince is a nice little surprise. The kid can act. I can’t find any information on who did the costumes for this one, which is weird, but they were 1936 perfect right down to the shoes [ETA – I got some clarification on this from director Brad Norris, who explains: The bulk of the costume work was handled by my Assistant Director, Alicia Stanley, who kept the unified 1936 look in check, along with several members of the cast, primarily Aladrian Wetzel and Heather Johnston, who borrowed, scrounged, and sewed to bring beautiful pieces to life. We didn’t list one person as the costume designer in the playbill primarily because everyone in the cast contributed and had a say in what their characters are wearing and why…Similarly vague was the set design and creation. While the ideas for the set and the bulk of the work on it was executed by me, there were similarly a gaggle of folks from the cast and production team who assisted in painting and planning. Thanks, Brad!]
BOTTOM LINE: Edward II snaps, crackles, pops and flies. It’s got more chemistry than an atom bomb and explodes on the stage like one. Honestly one of the most viscerally electric productions I have seen in years, resonant all the way through. It’s got blood, damn it. Bravo. Sincerely. Bra. vo. You know what, fuck it. I’m going again.
Running at Spotlighters until June 22nd.
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