Burbage Delivers Enthralling 'Edward II'

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday January 28, 2020

Gabrielle McCauley in "Edward II" at the Burgage Theatre Company through February 16
Gabrielle McCauley in "Edward II" at the Burgage Theatre Company through February 16  

Burbage Theatre Company has delivered an enthralling production of the historical drama "Edward II."

The play, written by Christopher Marlowe in 1594, focuses on a group of schemers who try to undermine their ruler through deception, betrayal, and various forms of manipulation. The parallels to our current political climate are inescapable.

Director Jeff Church ("Shakespeare in Love") has put a modern twist on the story by casting women in the key roles of King Edward (Gabrielle McCauley) and his opportunistic lover Gaveston.

Edward's infatuation with Gaveston has taken precedence over all other concerns. Not surprisingly, his military commanders grow alarmed by his lack of attention to possible encroachments by England's enemies and plot to eliminate Gaveston.

McCauley ("The School for Lies") gives a powerful performance as the troubled monarch, who proves to be unwilling or unable to handle the enormous responsibilities he has been given.

As Gaveston, Catia exhibits a charismatic swagger as the brash usurper. She and McCauley make for a believable couple and their scenes together are alternately tender and erotic.

Valerie Westgate ("Venus in Fur") is also excellent as the conniving and ruthless Queen Isabel, Edward's wife.

Alison Russo ("Dance Nation") turns in a superb supporting performance as Mortimer, a power-hungry man willing to resort to extreme measures to get what he wants.

I also liked Ari Kassabian as Edward's son, who takes violent retribution on his father's enemies.

Melissa Penick ("Hand to God"), Steph Rodger ("Paint"), Maggie Papa, and Rae Mancini, and Katie Preston turn in solid work as Edward's friends and enemies.

Church's staging is vibrant and imaginative. Andrew Stigler plays Edward's father and spends much of the first act in an alcove overlooking his son's golden throne. Edward is literally living in his father's shadow as he fails to live up to his ideals.

There are plenty of swordfights and a grisly decapitation following Edward's ouster from his throne. This is not a show for the squeamish. The quest for power has dire circumstances.

The last 25 minutes of "Edward II" are incredibly intense. Edward is stripped of everything and McCauley expertly captures the man's despair, his anger, and his fear. It is wrenching to watch.

Costume designer Abigail Dufresne has outfitted the actors in dark colors, which seems appropriate considering the heinous acts their characters are committing.

Church's sound design and Jessica Winward's lighting are also effective in creating a violent and unsparing world of betrayals and heartbreak.

"Edward II" reminds us that not all leaders are created equal. Some are visionary and inspire the best in us, while others promote hate and division.

If we don't demand accountability and human decency from the people we elect to lead us, then maybe we deserve whatever misery they dole out.

Even more important, our leaders are only as good as the people who support them. It's a lesson worth remembering as we head into another contentious election season.

"Edward II" runs through February 16. Burbage Theatre Company. 59 Blackstone Avenue, Pawtucket, RI. For more information, visit www.burbagetheatre.org or call 401-484-0355.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.