New York City Theater
The Queen's Company at Connelly Theatre, Manhattan
The Queen's Company, an all-female troupe, has taken on an ambitious project, in Christopher Marlowe's "Edward II." One can see the reasons for this choice. This Elizabethan drama focuses on homophobia, a topic apparently as timely yesterday as today.
Marlowe was noted for his soaring lines, but apparently not for his ability to structure a play. The first act focuses nicely on the besotted King Edward II and Gaveston, his male lover. But the second act, after Gaveston's execution, fritters away its strength and descends into one more tale of palace intrigue.
Would "Edward II" fare better in more seasoned hands? Possibly. The production itself, under direction of Rebecca Patterson (who also adapted the play) needs a clearer tone. Is this a quirky piece, a tragedy, a melodrama? All such elements are present, but to what purpose? Patterson has chosen, for example, to turn her rebellious English lords into Japanese Samurai. And other whimsical touches include a child's wagon conveying the young prince, a messenger arriving in modern postman attire, Gaveston mopping the floor. Do these modern touches add new insights to the story, or are they the director's self-indulgences?
Performances, like other aspects of the production, are uneven, but several actors turn in first-rate work. Zainab Jah is superb as the much-abused queen, making the role her own. With a richly-timbred voice and excellent diction, she makes every line work for her. Virginia Baete, too, is a strong stage presence as the King, professionally handling the transition from imperious king to wretched prisoner. Other players are less successful, having difficulty differentiating among the several characters they are called upon to play.
Yet, the Queen's company, now in its fifth season, is to be commended for achieving its racial diversity (one of its goals) and for tackling an ambitious project.
-- Irene Backalenick
Oct. 19, 2004