Shakespeare Theatre's Edward II

Edward II is only the second work directed by Gale Edwards that I have seen, but I am convinced that she is one of the most visually successful directors working today. Her sense of blocking is excellent; her crowd scenes always flow and are never messy or awkward. The pictures she creates stay with you long after the curtain is down. Helping her with the creation of these pictures for this production are Lee Savage (set), Murell Horton (costumes), and Mark McCullough (lights). I believe Edwards works frequently with Horton and McCullough, showing that she knows how to find collaborators who understand her vision.

The production opens with a single spotlight on Wallace Acton as Edward II downstage left. The rest of the lights quickly rise to reveal the funeral of King Edward I. Though the rest of the cast appears, Edward remains a man apart. Indeed, the character spends the rest of the play in conflict with his court and himself.

The death of the former king means that Edward’s friend and lover, Gaveston, who had been exiled, can return to England. No one else is in favor of this idea. The nobles of the court are absolutely against it – not because of the sex, but because Gaveston is a commoner, and Edward is showering him with titles, power, and money out of the treasury. Their discontent breaks out into mutiny and war is waged against Edward, who is captured, dethroned, and put into prison. He is eventually murdered, leaving his son to become Edward III.

I love when I see an intelligent production that resonates on many levels. Edwards sets the play in the 1920s, only a few years before Edward VIII would abdicate his thrown in order to marry the commoner Wallis Simpson. When Gaveston brings on the pageantry to entertain Edward, he is dressed in an all gold suit, complete with giant golden wings. These wings are repeated in white when Gaveston’s ghost appears later in the play. The wings are grand, and the idea may sound ridiculous, but as staged it has beauty and dignity and cannot help but make you recall the image from Angels in America.

Acton takes a role that I imagine in lesser hands would become grating and seem weak and creates an intensely human Edward, who even as he falls from power, rises in nobility. He is surrounded by a strong cast. Vayu O’Donnell plays a fun and over-the-top Gaveston without becoming too much to take. Andrew Long is excellent as the scheming and power-hungry Mortimer.

And if that all are not reasons enough to get you to see the play, I shall provide one more. James Konicek is freakin’ awesome in the small part of Lightborn, the assassin who murders Edward. Konicek has a rich bass voice that fits the part so well. Additionally, Konicek plays Lightborn with a sense of grace and stillness that makes him all the so much creepier.

4 stars
through January 6th


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