The Red Bull Theater Company has staged the world premiere of Garland Wrightï¿½s adaptation of Christopher Marloweï¿½s Edward the Second at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at 416 West 42nd Street. This production marks the first major professional production of Marloweï¿½s masterpiece in New York City in over thirty years.
Marlowe's play, which is played in the present and whose underlying theme is sex and politics, opens with the recall of Edward's exile favorite, Gaveston, who is rejoicing at the recent death of Edward I and his own resulting ability to return to England. The nature of Gaveston's relationship with the king is clearly romantic. Upon Gavestonï¿½s return to England, Edward gives him titles, access to the royal treasury and royal protection. However, as much as Gaveston pleases his majesty, he finds no favor from the king's nobles, who are soon wishing to renew Gaveston's exile. Edward is forced to agree to banish Gaverston once again to Ireland by request of the nobles. Edwardï¿½s wife, Isabella of France, who is still hoping for Edwardï¿½s love, persuades Mortimer, with promises of her love, to argue at court for Gavestonï¿½s recall to England. Her reason for this is so that Gaverston may be more conveniently murdered. The nobles soon find an excuse to capture and execute Gaveston. Edward now seeks comfort in a new favorite, Spencer. Following a battle with the troops of Isabella and Mortimer, Edward takes refuge in Neath Abbey. Most of the second act deals with the fate of all involved in this intrigue.
In this play, Marlowe does not condemn homosexuality. He presents the relationships of Edward and his lovers ambiguously rather than sympathetically. The kingï¿½s attachment to his lover clearly accounts for his failure as a king. The plot makes Edward a victim of his love for Gaveston. After Gaveston is killed Edward becomes an increasingly tragic figure. One of the more interesting things that happens during the play is way that you becomes sensitive to the plot and shift from an anti-Edward sentiment to an anti-Mortimer sentiment. As much as Edward might neglect his duties, Mortimer exploits Edwardï¿½s weakness for Gaveston as a means to gain the throne. Isabella uses love and sex to trap Mortimer into getting even with Edward and gain power. The final lesson is that people of the present time, as were the characters in the play, are confused between the private and public role that they must play.
The Red Bull Theater Company has mounted a fine and stirring production of Edward the Second. Garland Wright, who died in 1998, did a wonderful job of adapting the story and the prose for this production. The long passage of flowery prose are gone making it easy to understand the motivation of each character. The adaptation does retain the beauty of the language. The cast does an exceptional job of bringing the story to life. Kenajuan Bentley as Gaveston, Claire Latier as Isabella, Matthew Rauch as Mortimer, and Randy Harrison as Spenser are all excellent in their roles. Special recognition goes to Marc Vietor as Edward. His fine work allows us to understand the many faucets of Edward. The rest of the ensemble cast adds breathtaking moments to the production.
Jesse Berger, who is the director and the Foundling Artistic Director of Red Bull Theater, brings a unique style to the production. The use of platforms and his direction of the cast make this a distinctive production. He sets this production in modern times and asks the costume designer, Clint Ramos, to create some unique contemporary designs to enhance the production. The set design by John Armone and the music by Scott Killan add to the drama of Edwardï¿½s struggle. This is a production that deserves full audiences and a successful run. Edward the Second is a job well done by the Red Bull Theater Company.