Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company is opening its second theater space, the glass-enclosed Sidney Harman Hall, with a repertory of two plays by Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe. The company's production of Edward II is sumptuous and well spoken, if occasionally ponderous.
While Edward II was first performed in 1592, it was not produced in England between 1660, when the Restoration reopened the theaters that had been closed by the Puritans, and the early 20th century because of the passionate central relationship between the English king (Wallace Acton) and his favorite, Piers Gaveston (Vayu O'Donnell). However, the play is about much more than love between men: it concerns the responsibilities of a monarch to himself, his family, and his country.
Director Gale Edwards had the inspired idea of setting the tragedy around the end of World War I, not too long before (in real life) another English king named Edward abdicated the throne for the sake of an unsuitable love. This also allows some clever choices in the design, specifically the surrealistic, possibly Picasso-inspired costumes (designed by Murell Horton) worn by the performers Gaveston hires to entertain the king.
Acton is a dynamic Edward as he places his devotion to Gaveston above his other duties, yet simultaneously tries to placate his court and his (understandably) distraught queen, Isabella (Deanne Lorette). As Gaveston, O'Donnell ably conveys the man's two sides: he truly loves Edward, but he also enjoys the power and influence he gets from their connection, and he especially relishes showing off his prominence to nobles who despise him less for being a male lover and more for not being a member of their social class.
Lorette has less to do as the unfortunate queen, but she embodies the character well and with dignity. Andrew Long shows the progression of the rival nobleman Mortimer from impotent antagonist to furious revolutionary. Noteworthy cameo performances come from Amy Kim Waschke as Edward's niece, who becomes a pawn in the battle over Gaveston; Kurt Uy as an ambitious tutor; and James Konicek as an assassin.
Karl Lundeberg composed the intense music, which adds to the cinematic feel of the performance created by Lee Savage's ever-shifting scenic design and Mark McCullough's shafts of light.
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Ensemble: Abe Cruz, Austin Herzing, Anthony Jackson, Jair Kamperveen, Kaitlin Manning, Kaytie Morris, Kevin Pierson, Majed Sayess Directed by Gale Edwards
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall