nytheatre.com review by Aaron Leichter
Warning: patrons who attend the FringeNYC production of edWARd2
expecting Christopher Marlowe’s classic historical play will be sorely
disappointed. And theatergoers who have no idea who Marlowe was may be
lost, too. But otherwise, this play has everything that open-minded
Fringe-festers could want: it overflows with ingenious experimental
theatrics performed by a gung-ho ensemble of youthful actors. It only
fails in the moments when writer/director Anton Dudley attempts too much
rather than not enough.
August 15, 2002
A completely new retelling of the story of the medieval English king whose scandalous lifestyle led to his own death, edWARd2 follows the love affair between Edward II and his courtier Gaveston. As Gaveston gains influence, his depravity (and the power that the king awards him) angers the nobility. Led by Mortimer, the nobles plunge the country into civil war, finally capturing the king and executing Gaveston.
Dudley focuses on the love affair rather than the affairs of state: his play isn’t a statement about history but one about love, closer to Romeo and Juliet than Richard II. He’s written a script whose heightened verse accommodates the grandiose emotions of his protagonists, and, aside from a slow stretch before the climax, he tells his story at a good pace. The staging tends toward the experimental, with puppets and dancers creating a strangely compelling visual style. When, for example, was the last time you saw actors upstaged by foam vegetables?
Unfortunately, this is as much a comment on the performers as on the vegetables. Of all the lead actors, only Trevor Oswalt, as Gaveston, gives a performance that matches the production’s quirkiness. He slinks across the stage like a film siren, but with a strange mechanical rhythm. The ensemble actors, on the other hand, maneuver their puppets and masks well, especially Allison Campbell, whose precise balletic movement alone sustains the play during the slower scenes.
But Dudley too runs into problems, as his characters verbally explain what his staging has already showed us. Thus Edward’s rejected queen, played first by an actress and then by a puppet, wilts and shrinks and then explains that Edward’s rejection has caused her to wilt and shrink. This problem, however, doesn’t diminish the audacious complexity that Dudley has brought to 45 Bleecker. Though it doesn’t always work, edWARd2 is a vibrant production that fits right into the FringeNYC paradigm.