By Michele Markarian
“Edward II” – Written by Christopher Marlowe; Directed by David R. Gammons; Set Designer, Sara Brown; Lighting Designer, Jeff Adelberg; Costume Designer, Rachel Padula-Shufelt; Sound Designer, Dave Wilson. Presented by Actors Shakespeare Project, Charlestown Working Theater, 442 Bunker Hill Street, Charlestown, through March 19.
By most accounts, Edward II was a failure as king, considered weak, inept, and prone to lavishing money on his favorites. He fathered at least one illegitimate child and was reputed to enjoy the company of lower-class people, including his alleged homosexual lover, Piers Gaveston. It is this relationship and its repercussions that are the focus of Christopher Marlowe’s accessible and exciting play, “Edward II”.
Edward (Maurice Emmanuel Parent) is obsessed with the lower-born upstart, Piers Gaveston (Eddie Shields), much to the concern of his advisors. He bestows titles on Gaveston, in an attempt to make a silk’s purse out of a sow’s ear, which doesn’t fool anybody. Edward makes no bones about the fact that he’d rather be eroticizing with Gaveston than running the kingdom. Worse, he cavorts with Gaveston in front of his wife, the long-suffering Queen Isabella (Jenny Israel), whose sexual frustration leads her to make an unwise sexual choice of her own. Note to the royals: duty over booty. With no one minding the kingdom, it is ripe for interference.
Director Gammons pares the show down to eight characters, which works well. And what an outstanding cast! Maurice Emmanuel Parent is convincing as the King, so besotted with desire that he can’t see clearly. Eddie Shields plays Gaveston with a charming mix of coquette and rogue. The two of them make an odd couple – one regal, one ruffian – yet convince us to understand and believe the attraction during a marvelously choreographed duet that showcases their interdependence and passion. Jennie Israel, as the affection-starved Queen, is appropriately piteous, wounded; the poor thing has to watch her gorgeous husband deliberately flaunt his attraction to someone else. One can almost forgive her the treachery she later exhibits, for she is finally getting some, even if it’s from the wrong hands. As Prince Edward III, David Castillo shines, effectively executing the rise from scared, panicked child to determined ruler.
Sara Brown’s set design transforms the Charlestown Working Theater into a sort of steel and plastic castle, with scaffolding catwalk and see-through shower curtain liners. The effect is gorgeous, spooky and dreamlike, and allows the characters many places to exit, enter, or spy. Lighting designer Jeff Adelberg and sound designer David Wilson add atmosphere and an eerie, elegiac beauty. Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s creative costumes cleverly highlight the quirks of each character.
Yet all is not doom and gloom from this tragedy, where, believe it or not, there are a few laugh out loud moments. Lancaster (Nigel Gore) and Mortimer (Alex Pollock) add some comic relief where you least expect it – their placards, for example, welcoming back Gaveston to the kingdom after he’s been exiled, cracked this reviewer up. There’s also a chimerical quality to some of the movements, especially after Act One, when the actors rise slowly and move offstage, and in one of the final moments of the play, which is, quite simply, exquisite. I am not going to give it away here, you’ll have to go to Charlestown and see for yourself. For more information, go to: http://www.actorsshakespeareproject.org/