Presented by triangle productions! at Theater! Theatre!, Portland, Oregon. February 27-March 20, 2004. Adapted by William S. Gregory. Directed by Andres Alcala. Set by Don Horn. Costumes by Elizabeth Wright. Lighting by Jeff Woods. Sound by Andy Buzan. Michael Mendelson (Edward II), Kelsey Tyler (Gaveston, Lightborn, Chorus), Stephanie Gaslin (Queen Isabella), Neal Starbird (Mortimer, Chorus), Gary Norman (Kent, Chorus), Zach Nause (Archbishop of Canterbury, Arundel, Chorus), Kevin Connell (Lancaster, Bishop of Coventry, Leicester, Gurney, Chorus), Christ Porter (Pembroke, John of Hainault, Abbot, Matrevis, Chorus), and Rafe Larsen (Edward III, Boy).
Recent productions of Edward II are few and far between (Jarman's 1991 film Edward II notwithstanding) with Marlowe's Doctor Faustus arguably better known and more popular. In the case of less performed plays, however, current events and hot political issues can make them useful and achingly relevant. Witness the current crop of political plays on the London stages, including Sophocles's rarely performed Trachiniae, in response to the war in Iraq. Similarly, in these times of passionate debates about gay marriage and the rush to enact constitutional amendments to ban them, Edward II has the potential to be timely, insightful, and equally passionate for it examines how private choices become public and political, and potentially threatening to the status quo. Conversations about the complexity of the issues, whether legal or social, are much needed. So it was with a certain amount of excitement that I attended a recent production of Edward II.
From the beginning, this Edward II was engaging and smart. Gregory's streamlined adaptation reduced Marlowe's cast of 42 to a workable 8 adults and one boy. Because of this, there were many clever doublings that insightfully explored dynamics of the relationship between the king and his subjects. The best of these was with Gaveston, the king's lover, who doubled as his executioner. The destructive aspects of Gaveston in Edward's life were made explicitly clear.
Similarly, the taut adaptation, Alcala's brisk direction, and the stylized costuming choices (the men wore black evening attire throughout) highlighted the relationships and the passionate stakes on both sides. Alcala also provided a framework for the action and amplified the young Edward III's role by making him a silent observer of his father's downfall, much like the boy in Taymor's Titus. In this production, Marlowe's history chronicle became relentless in its forward trajectory. Sections of dialog were reborn as terse, intense monologues for Edward or Gaveston. Gregory's adaptation focused the audience on the conflict between the public and private fives of the king in relation to his lover and his kingdom.
Like the script, the set was minimal and spare in the intimate performance space, with a single platform running along the back wall, two "Roman" chairs stage right and stage left of the platform, four crosses draped with red fabric that came to signify those murdered, and a white on black rendering of Edward II gazing from the back wall. Because of this spareness, the focus was upon the words and the actors. …