Sweet, Sweet Gaveston

Sexuality, death, swords, war and the devil took the stage this past week as the Claire Trevor School of the Arts presented performances Edward II at the Little Theatre. Directed by MFA candidate Adrian Balbontin, the production stayed as true to playwright Christopher Marlowe’s text as possible.

Said Balbontin that though “there have been necessary slight alterations […] there has been no lack of homage due to the playwright that so successfully taps into the milieu of an anguishing society decaying and the personal relations that nightmarishly deteriorate as a result.”

And the level of detail and work put into the production was apparent – the set and stage space were used well and created an atmosphere that lent itself greatly to the decrepit, dilapidated society the play was set in. “I wanted a sense of that decay,” said Balbontin in a post-performance Talk Back on Thursday, and he definitely got one. Most noticeable of this decay was the motif of water damage throughout the design, whether in the walls of the set or the clothing of most of the characters.

Nowhere was this descent into a nightmarish depravity more apparent than in the acting itself, as the seemingly innocent characters quickly turn sour at the chance at greatness.

The play begins with Gaveston (played by Grant Lancaster), the catalyst character of the play’s conflict. Favored by the king despite not having been born into royal society, the affection he gains as King Edward II (Greg Beam)’s best friend and apparent lover angers the king’s nobles and causes them to start a rebellion.

Of the nobles, the most prominent is Mortimer (Craig Fox), who survives the struggling rebellion and comes close to becoming ruler of the kingdom once he summons the supernatural power of Lightborn (otherwise known as Lucifer, also played by Grant Lancaster) to dispatch the imprisoned king.

Elements of sexuality appear prevalently throughout the play, as Edward fails to keep conflicts of his kingdom under control and his personal obsession with Gaveston unravels his life. Leaving a scorned queen behind (which, if renaissance plays have taught us anything, is just never a good idea), Edward continues to let his love for Gaveston get in the way of more pressing matters.

A lot of detail was put into showing how extremely flawed the characters are – Mortimer is privy to grandiose assumptions of his own self-worth at the height of his success, Edward himself is never too ready to accept the flattery of an underling or two, Kent shows the two-faced indecision of a sibling turned against her brother.

To this effect, the acting was very well done; it was apparent that every actor approached their character with a thoughtful eye, especially with the inner conflict of Edward. Also of note were Sabrina Schloss, who played Prince Edward (Edward II’s son) and Ben Jacoby, who eclectically portrayed Lancaster and, later in the play, Gurney. Jacoby’s indignantly regal bellowing as Lancaster was then overturned by his perhaps dimwitted nonchalance as Gurney; Schloss ends the play with a truly nightmarish image: humming a haunting tune and carrying a decapitated head, pacing around a fountain that served as an integral set piece.

But while many of the actors were spot-on in their roles, the dynamics between characters sometimes suffered a few inconsistencies. Choreographed fight scenes ranged from stellar and fast-paced to admittedly slow and overly deliberate. Despite how each actor played their characters beautifully, a few mismatched accents were at some points hard to ignore. Fox’s accent as Mortimer was at times a bit too modern in contrast to some other actors’ pursuit of a more classical style. And while Fox’s accent and acting style didn’t quite line up with some of the rest of the cast, the juxtaposition even worked well in a lot of ways – not only did Mortimer stand out as a character, but even provided some surprising comedic relief in a few key moments.

Even counting these minuscule gaps in conceit, the play as a whole did not suffer greatly. With every aspect of the play – acting, setting and direction, most effectively – the director’s vision channeled that of Marlowe himself, adding to what Balbontin called the “minimalist canvas” the playwright had created over 400 years ago. It is perhaps because of the minimalism and universality of the issues presented within Edward II: class struggle, tyranny of the affluent, sexual uncertainty in a time of ignorance are all still prevalent in today’s society.

That said, even though the issues are no far stretch to relate to in the present day, they definitely received a boost from the quality of work and performance from director, cast and crew.