Sunday, March 12, 2017

Actors' Shakespeare Project Presents A Brilliant and Bawdy "Edward II" by Christopher Marlowe - Through March 19

This ASP production has a venomous bite with its palace intrigues, infidelities, betrayals, murders, and seductions. It is brilliantly conceived by Director David R. Gammons and boldly executed by a creative team and acting troupe that are not afraid to take risks and let it all hang out.

Christopher Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare who had a brief and meteoric career as a playwright. He died mysteriously in a barroom brawl at the age of 29, but he left behind an impressive body of work, which, while lacking in quantity, rivalled that of Shakespeare in terms of quality. "Edward II" was first performed at the end of the sixteenth century and was popular well into the next century, but then it was banned for the next 300 years because of the explicit homoerotic nature of some of its themes and actions. Director Gammons and his design team have created a set that recapitulates the ethos of a New York City bathhouse during the height of the AIDS epidemic when expressions of gay sexuality were driven underground, as they were in this Elizabethan play. The set, designed by Sara Brown, includes working shower, bath tubs, towel racks. It is a fitting platform upon which the actors can tell this ancient tale. The ambience is enhanced tremendously by the complex Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg, pulsating Sound Design by David Wilson, and sumptuous Costumes by Rachel Padula Shufelt. Omar Robinson choreographed the fight and violence scenes.

The play opens seductively with Gaveston (Eddie Shields) returning from exile and emerging from a tub resplendent in the same garb with which he first greeted the world on the day of his birth. For the next several minutes, standing with only a skimpy towel draped over his shoulder, he soliloquizes about what it will be like for him to be reunited with his best friend and lover, King Edward II. Within the confines of that speech, we see a foreshadowing of many of the key elements that will be developed in this character, and in the play as a whole: naked ambition, passion, lust, vulnerability, coyness, charm, and petulance. It is an opening as powerful as any SNL Cold Open with Alec Baldwin pillorying #45. If Mr. Shields, a proud member of Actors' Equity, did nothing more in the entire play than to perform this brilliant scene, he would have more than earned his paycheck. But he does much more.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Edward II
"Edward II" by Christopher Marlowe
Actors' Shakespeare Project
Charlestown Working Theater
Through March 19t

As Gaveston's lover and protector, the formidable Maurice Emmanuel Parent creates an indelible Edward II. He too spends a significant part of the play naked in a bathtub, having been deposed by lords who resent his placing his hedonistic pleasure above the needs of the kingdom. He is so blinded by his love for Gaveston, that he rejects his Queen Isabella (Jennie Israel) and spurns the advice and warnings of his brother, Kent (Nile Hawver), Mortimer (Alex Pollock), and Lancaster (Nigel Gore). The royal court is scandalized and outraged by Edwards' open wooing of and canoodling with the conniving Gaveston. Their love and lust is made explicit in a beautifully choreographed scene in which Gaveston and Edward dance erotically like two vines wrapping themselves around each other. It is a powerful and almost balletic pas de deux.

Rounding out this stellar cast is David J. Castillo, as Prince Edward III. His stylized dance shows in his tortuous physical contortions how his soul is tormented by the prospect of his being shepherded by his uncle Kent and Mortimer after the Prince has learned that they were responsible for his father's death. Stewart Evan Smith plays the courtier Spencer with strength and dignity.

This response to this electrifying production has been so strong that two additional performances were recently added. You have only until the 19th of March to get the Charlestown Working Theater to see a play that is infrequently performed, but which will be talked about for many months to come, especially during next year's award season.

Actors Shakespeare Project Website