You’d think the big perk of being king is being able to do whatever you want. That is tragically not the case with Edward II, the duty-bound and defiant monarch of E2, an ambitious and sobering play by local scribe Bob Bartlett about the current cold wave of sexual intolerance that threatens to engulf hard-fought and tenuous rights.
Bartlett has brought the fate of the 14th century British king (immortalized in Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe’s play, Edward II) to the present day where a conservative front and bloodthirsty social media contribute to Edward II’s swift and merciless downfall.
This world premiere production at Rep Stage could be the saddest play in Christendom, as Edward (Zack Powell, boyish and impetuous, playing the spoilt son of privilege with gung-ho) and his “favorite” Piers de Gaveston (Alejandro Ruiz, a somber and smoldering foil to the more immature Edward) march toward their inevitable fate like the good soldiers they are. However, director Joseph W. Ritsch takes the “we’re screwed, let’s party!” approach to the source material, drenching the show in bold digital graphics, high gloss and glitz, and sex, sex, sex until it throbs with light, music, and sensuality like a hot club on New Year’s Eve.
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Those familiar with Edward II’s (short) story know what happens from the get-go, and Bartlett seems to suggest that Edward himself knew his reign would not be long and golden, since he really didn’t feel prepared or certain about the role of king, and then there’s the matter of being gay. Not living in the shadows, “don’t ask, don’t tell” gay, but out and proud and deeply in love since boyhood with Gaveston, similar to the great love between Achilles and Patroclos.
You could even conjecture that Edward knew on some level he was nothing but a placeholder for his son Prince Edward III (Zach Rakotomaniraka, embodying the promise of youth burdened by duty), who was raised by his regal mother Queen Isabella (the stately and steely Dane Figueroa Edidi) and influenced by his ruthless grandfather to be great king material. (Yes, Edward was gay, but he also knew his duty was to produce heirs, and so had children with Isabella).
With that sword of Damocles hanging over your head, why not live your life to the fullest and love whom you want to love until the people, your ministers and even your own family say you can’t anymore? If you can go out with style, looking hot and gorgeous while everything crashes and burns around you, all the better.
Ritsch’s dance party on the edge of the apocalypse approach works smashingly, with brilliant light, looming digital portraits of the characters that are Robert Mapplethorpe-like in their black and white starkness, sumptuous fabrics and a modern, linear set design that rivet the eye.
The sinuous sexuality of Edward and Gaveston, who wind themselves around each other like lariats, as well as Isabella’s lush lolling about with her lover Sir Roger Mortimer (Robbie Gay, bringing shadings to the role of the Machiavelian), who also happens to be the prime minister, contribute to an overall sense of pleasure watching royals behave badly.
E2 closes November 17, 2019. Details and tickets
It’s a bit jarring when the party starts to fade and things get serious. Ruiz’s prison scenes are piercingly sad, but those of his lover Edward do not have the same gravitas, perhaps because Powell is so boisterous and kid-like throughout the play by the time the inevitable happens we have not developed enough empathy for this incorrigible party boy.
And a duet between Isabella, pining for her husband Edward in her chambers, while Gaveston sings about his lover in another room, is just plain awkward and under-developed.
E2 is tragic on two levels. The true, doomed love between Edward and Gaveston never has a chance in this world—but maybe in the next, as we see in a graceful coda that shows the pair dancing under a silver disco ball in the afterlife.
Edward’s inability—willfulness, even—to consider the anti-gay tenor of the country he governs and the people he rules is his tragedy. You can’t be yourself and the King, too.
E2 by Bob Bartlett . Director: Joseph W. Ritch . Featuring: Dane Figueroa Edidi, Robby Gay, Zack Powell, Zach Rakotomaniraka, Alejandro Ruiz . Scenic Design: Nathanial Sinnott. Lighting Design: Conor Mulligan. Costume Design: B. Benjamin Weigel. Sound Design: Sarah O’Halloran. Multimedia Design: Sarah Tundermann. Dramaturg: Lisa A. Wilde. Intimacy and Fight Director: Jenny Male. Production Stage Manager: Jack Riley. Produced by Rep Stage . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.