Stunning ‘E2’ examines intersection of sexuality and power in Rep Stage production in Columbia
By Patti Restivo
Baltimore Sun Media|
Nov 08, 2019 | 6:00 AM
In 1593, Christopher Marlowe, the Renaissance playwright rumored to have penned works attributed to William Shakespeare, wrote “Edward II” about an unpopular English king alleged to have been viciously murdered due to his sexual orientation.
In “E2,” currently playing at Rep Stage, local playwright Bob Bartlett (a 2018 playwright in residence at New Voices for the Theater) has reimagined and abbreviated Marlowe’s tragedy for Rep Stage in an artistic mix of the remote past and modern life set in a “kingdom in the present.”
Directed by the professional theater’s producing artistic director and the playwright’s friend, Joseph W. Ritsch, the world premiere of “E2” appears second in Rep Stage’s 2019-2020 season.
It is one of four plays chosen to create empathy and examine power. Set against a changing backdrop of larger-than-life partial nude photos and a floor so shiny that it mirrors and tastefully completes the images, “E2” mixes modern technology into an imaginative and beautifully executed production.
Its visual design is characterized by 13th-century charm, but King Edward is never without his cellphone and loves playing video games. Prince Edward III rebels against a “no technology” day when the royal family is threatened by explosives, and social media is the instrument that ultimately delivers King Edward and his lover, Piers de Gaveston, to their demise.
Nathaniel Sinnott’s set design, Conor Mulligan’s lighting and Sarah O’Halloran’s sound create a striking, believable alternate reality where power, gender, sexuality and familial and romantic love collide.
Sarah Tundermann’s multimedia design and Benjamin Weigel’s costumes are also stunning.
It is the reunion of childhood friends Edward and Gaveston (played by Zack Powell and Alejandro Ruiz), when Edward has just been crowned king, that begins a tumultuous journey. As Powell and Ruiz bring on all the boyish wonder of a deep love story with magnificent chemistry, some of their scenes become graphically sexual.
One never doubts that their love is real, that Gaveston is innocent of a crime he is accused of, nor that Edward loves Gaveston, his family and his country.
In one of the most memorable lines, Gaveston asks Edward, “Why do they hate us?” It’s a question Ritsch writes in his director’s notes that he finds himself asking.
As the antagonist, Sir Roger Mortimer, Robbie Gay’s thirst for power knows no boundaries. Engaged in an affair with Queen Isabella (played by Dane Figueroa Edidi), he makes a complicated villain who reveals the tender, brutal and power-hungry aspects of his character and is absolutely terrifying in a rape scene.
Figueroa is refined and mesmerizing as Isabella, a powerful woman who loves, defends and champions her king unconditionally until he forces her to choose her children over him. In spite of her very human relationship with Mortimer, she defines majestic through thick and thin.
Isabella and Gaveston deliver a standout moment when they sing, physically separate but together, an original song entitled “Drifted Away” by Gail George and Jennifer Leigh Houston.
Zach Rakotomaniraka’s character, Prince Edward III, finds his own power as the story progresses. As the charming, beloved son who becomes a teen king when his father is murdered, he commands the stage as he delivers the most hopeful moment of the play vowing to honor “my father’s scream heard round the world.”
Gritty, intense and haunting, “E2” is not for the faint-hearted; it contains explicit sexual scenes and disturbing violence toward the LBTGQ+ global community that resonates (homosexuality remains illegal in many parts of the world) as well as strong language, strobe effects and fog.
Rep Stage, which has a history of producing Helen Hayes award winners, celebrates the power of storytelling with superb artistry and unforgettable performances in the regional theater’s current production of Bartlett’s poetic new play.
“E2” continues through Sunday, Nov. 17, in the Studio Theatre, Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center, at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Admission is $40 for general, $35 for seniors, and $15 on Thursdays. For tickets and additional information, go to repstage.org.