BWW Reviews: Theatre Out's Revised 'EDWARD II' Postulates Openly-Gay Monarch

There is always a sense of curiosity when it comes to the private lives of famous people, especially now in the age of up-to-the-minute tweets and 24-hour news cycles. Which actress just entered rehab? Which actor is cheating on his wife? Which singer is a secret homesexual? Yes, despite bigger troubles in the world, there is an insatiable appetite for such salaciously juicy tidbits. And, oddly, even our own iconic, historical figures aren't immune to such speculation. To wit, Abraham Lincoln to this day can't quite escape a few whispered rumors about his alleged homosexual tendencies. That very rumor is the raison d'etre for Theatre Out's impressive revisionist adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's late 1500's play EDWARD II, now playing at the Empire Theater in Santa Ana through June 5. This new take on the troubled monarch's downfall-written in similar meter by Darcy Hogan-focuses its tabloid spotlight on the widely-held rumor that this King was really gay (or, perhaps, really bisexual), and that his eventual deposition from the throne of England (and subsequent murder) was a direct result of it.

A contemporary of William Shakespeare, playwright Christopher Marlowe's original play titled The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer is-at least in this production-just a jumping-off point for Hogan's adaptation. Gone are the multiple periphery characters in Marlowe's dense text; here the emphasis falls squarely on King Edward (played by Ben Green) and the tug-of-war "love triangle" he forms between his ignored wife, Queen Isabella (Katherine Curci Prenovost), and his favorite Knight, Piers Gaveston (Angel Correa). Back to England from exile, Gaveston is showered with a new title (an Earl) and the privileges and wealth that comes with having the King's favor (both in and out of the royal bedroom). This angers many in the King's court, who find the King's brazenly public affections for Gaveston as "a mark of shame against the realm," which, they fear, will bring about the ultimate destruction of the Kingdom. Quite an eerily familiar political soundbite, isn't it?

The loudest opposition to Edward's "distraction" is Roger Mortimer (Gregory Spradlin), who manages to convince the King to banish Gaveston for the well-being of the nation. The triangle soon becomes a 'quadrangle' when the Queen succumbs to the affections of Mortimer, who later masterminds the murders of both Gaveston and the King himself. Suffice it to say, things don't end well. (No spoiler alert necessary here).

While this is by no means the first adaptation of EDWARD II to shine its light on the King's gay proclivities, Hogan's version (which she also directs) has been re-written specifically to hit us with this eye-opening exhibition: The King was actually quite out... and quite proud. Gaveston is his lover and everyone can see it, plain as day (even though they may not have had the labels for such same-sex affections back then). Such a treatment is certainly apropos material for Orange County's Gay and Lesbian-centric theater company. Here, the King shows more public displays of ravenous lust towards Gaveston than his own wife, to the relative disgust of the court of England. Mortimer voices the loudest of the protests, considering such openness as the road to ruin.

Lead performer Ben Green-the same young actor who gained positive critical notices for Theatre Out's last production, BENT-is here, once again, immensely excellent, proving himself to be a truly gifted thespian-in-the-making. His BENT co-star, Gregory Spradlin, is also praise-worthy, convincingly cast as displeased and vengeful Mortimer. Both haunting and tragic, Katherine Curci Prenovost gives a subtle yet believably regal performance as the Queen. The supporting players give a bit of a distracting mixed bag of acting, but in no way a total deterrent in the show. The English accents are essentially non-existent here, which may have been a good choice in keeping the seriousness of the drama grounded and effective (to risk accents would have been a distraction and could result in unexpectedly funny reactions).

By her own admission, Hogan's version is about "40% her words," and she accomplishes the feat quite convincingly. The play achieves the monumental job of seamlessly mashing-up Marlowe's original language with Hogan's easily understandable storytelling. Hogan's EDWARD II is the palatable, Cliffs Notes® version of Marlowe's original play-itself truncated from historical accounts and Raphael Holished's Chronicles-disguised effortlessly with Hogan's aplomb mastery with iambic pentameter, making it her very own. In the process, she has expertly delivered a thought-provoking, easily-digestible work of theater, that will satisfy both Shakespeare-phobes and Classical theater aficionados. Not bad for the same playwright of Theatre Out's outlandish farce, Last Christmas, I Gave You My Heart, But The Very Next Day, You Said You Were Gay.

Overall, Theatre Out's EDWARD II is a worthy effort of an intriguing revisionist representation of historical events, and is an excellent talent showcase for both playwright Hogan and actor Green. Anticipation is bubbling for what these two will offer up next (individually and/or, perhaps, collaboratively).

Score: 8.5 / 10*

Photos from EDWARD II by Darcy Hogan.
Top: Ben Green with Katherine Curci (Prenovost).
Bottom: Ben Green & Angel Correa [foreground].

*Broadway World's new score card system. For details, click here.

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Tickets to Theatre Out's production of EDWARD II are priced $18.00 (adults) and $15.00 (students with valid student ID). $10.00 All Tickets, Thursday, May 27.

Remaining shows are scheduled for Friday, May 21 @ 8:00 pm; Saturday, May 22 @ 8:00 pm; Sunday, May 23 @ 2:00 pm; Thursday, May 27 @ 8:00 pm; Friday, May 28 @ 8:00 pm; Saturday, May 29 @ 8:00 pm; Sunday, May 30 @ 2:00 pm; Thursday, June 3 @ 8:00 pm; Friday, June 5 @ 8:00 pm; Saturday, June 6 @ 8:00 pm

EDWARD II is by Christopher Marlowe, adapted and directed by Darcy Hogan. Featuring Ben Green, Katherine Curci (Prenovost), Angel Correa, Greg Spradlin, Jamie Sowers, Kevin Cordova, Rob'n T. Lewis, Lauren Kushin, and the voice of Matthew Merced.

Theatre Out's home is The Empire Theatre in the Artists' Village in downtown Santa Ana, located at 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA. Tickets are available online at www.theatreout.com or by calling the Theatre Out Box Office at (714) 826-8700.

Visit www.theatreout.com for more information.

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From This Author Michael L. Quintos

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