The opening tableau in Edward II at The Shakespeare Theatre Company gave me a start. I thought Evita had just died, but no, it was just the old king. (This was not the first image which, oddly, reminded me of that Lloyd-Webber opus. In one sequence, Edward's queen is rousing the rabble from a scaffolded platform via an echoing microphone, though she thankfully does not sing. And a scene among the powerful nobles as they plot Edward's downfall was reminiscent of the Argentine Generals trying to remove Peron. The only thing missing was the rocking chairs...). But these momentary glimpses fell to the side as soon as the big royal masque was performed; like a mis-placed Gay Pride float, the stage teemed with flouncing fawns, drag queens, and plenty of male decolletage. It was an introduction to the king and his favorites which clearly startled the high-brow crowd who can afford seats at the new Harman Center, which The Shakes now inhabits.
We don't like the king much in the first hour or so of the play, and the rebellious nobility seems justified in their protestations. But soon enough, the aristocracy turns ugly, and by Act II, we are on the side of the king and his lover; nobody deserves to be treated like that.
I can say that Edward II is the best thing I have seen at The Shakes in over a decade. With precision and skill, director Gale Edwards moves through the tale of the monarch who lost his throne due to his obsessive love for a favorite. It's a very strong ensemble, with two standouts surrounding the leading performance of Wally Acton. Jay Whittaker as Edward's brother Kent negotiates his character's shiftings of allegiance with honesty (and he wins the Best Spit Award. All of us in the front row were sprayed at least once during his performance). And Vayu O'Donnell is a knockout as Edward's favorite Gaveston, who leads the king to ruin but looks great doing it (the giant "Angels in America" wings notwithstanding). For the first time in many shows at The Shakes, I did not have problems with any of the women (for some reason, they tend to cast showy, stagey actresses with little depth but who can accentuate their vowels). The women here, however, were quite good. The smaller roles were filled with smart actors, including a really creepy turn by James Konicek as the hitman hired to eliminate the king in a, shall we say, penetrating way. (Apparently Marlowe did not invent the horrific way in which Edward meets his end). Floyd King, David Sabin, and Fran Dorn, long-time stalwarts of the company, are underused but effective in their cameos. Maybe they have more to do in the "Tamburlaine," which runs in rep.
This was my first visit to The Shakespeare Theatre's new Harman Center for the Arts, and the theatre looks quite stunning. I look forward to seeing a show with the thrust configuration, which we were apparently supposed to be seeing during this Marlowe Rep. Word on the Rialto has it that somebody made a huge budgeting boo-boo, and failed to account for the change-over of the space from Proscenium to Thrust. So, both shows are apparently in the Proscenium mode. (Actually, the theatre is calling the current configuration "End stage," rather than Proscenium, as it does not have the arch framing the stage. But it's the same look from the audience's perspective.)
Anyhoo, some poor schnook is out of a job because he forgot that it costs money to reconfigure the space from "End" to "Thrust," which was the initial concept for the Rep. That's OK, I'm out of a job, too, which gives me all this free time to see all this local theatre.