By Bridgette M. Redman
ANN ARBOR –
“Edward the Second” is more than an excuse to put naked men on stage. It’s an appeal to get younger people attending theater while exploring the intersections of love and lust, of hedonism and responsibility, and of power and subservience.
The New Theatre Project produces its first historical adaptation, returning to playwright Jason Sebacher to adapt Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II,” the story of a gay king whose lust trumped all other royal concerns.
“The Marlowe play in which our piece is based on is an almost shocking look at homosexuality,” said director Keith Paul Medelis. “It features some of the most sexually honest and frank dialogue about the love of a king for his boyfriend based on historical fact about King Edward II. Those used to seeing hetero-normativity in classical theater will have their views challenged here.”
The adaptation, “Edward the Second,” condenses the story to four characters and focuses on the first half of the play.
“The thing we most enjoy is classical text and reinventing it in some way,” Medelis said. “We’re also interested in LGBT characters and themes. This happens to be one of those plays. Marlowe is pretty well known for being a homosexual, so was Edward II. Edward II ruled England with his boyfriend.”
Sebacher has adapted many works for New Theatre Project, including “Posing,” “The Spring Awakening Project,” and “The Tempest Project.” This is their first history.
“The New Theatre Project is very interested in taking old stories and making them new,” Sebacher said. “(Edward II) is a story at its heart that is very urgent. It must urgently be heard by all people – but in my mind especially the younger crowd. It is the story of a young man who graduates from whatever and is unready for adulthood.”
Chris Jakob, who plays Edward II in the adaptation, said he has found the king to have a true beauty to him even though he can sometimes be a monster.
“He is young and is thrust into this role and has to take on all the responsibilities,” said Jakob, saying he focuses on keeping the character young. “This boy (his lover) is the only thing that matters. Everything else comes second. He’s there to do whatever he wants and no one can say anything to him really. No one can stop him from flipping out and making his boyfriend the archbishop. He really can do whatever he wants and be as drunk as he wants. Then people look to him and things get real. He can’t just be a child, he has to be a king.”
It is the youth of the king that all three agree makes this story relevant and urgent. Edward inherits while unready. He gets rid of all the old advisors and replaces them with his boyfriend and the two youths run rampant.
“They have a love fest on the throne because they think they know better,” Medelis said. “It is this naive young lust that we are interested in focusing on. It imagines what happens in a young relationship on the scale of the king of England. What happens when you are so far in lust that everything else is irrelevant, even the destruction of an entire nation?”
The play has been modernized while paying homage to Marlowe’s language and the Elizabethan acting style. The space will be lit with candles, and everyone decked in period costumes to juxtapose the look with the sound of the contemporary language that Sebacher says he hears in the young gay party boy culture.
There are moments, though, when the emotion runs so high that the play transcends contemporary dialogue and moves into the poetry of Marlowe. The playwright chose the moments for their emotional explosiveness and the passages for their clarity.
“I’m writing very quick, natural sounding dialog in a poetic way,” Sebacher explained. “They do speak Marlowe’s text. I liken the Marlowe to a song in a musical. It is where the emotions are so high that for a moment we are taken out of the narrative and can dwell in this moment of Marlowe. Just briefly, for less than a minute, the moment is highlighted and we are dwelling in poetry.”
These techniques combine to explore the theme of growing up when one wants to stay young. It isn’t a story that frowns on Edward or those who are listless in finding their way, but rather one that asks questions.
“I want our audience to feel ambivalent about it, to side with him,” Sebacher said. “He is young, but that doesn’t make him a vapid, vacuous, villainous person that we pity. He’s a human being who has growing pains. It is (a theme) that is specific to young gay men, but at the same token, it is a universal story that we all go through. When do I need to grow up and when does love have to replace lust?”
‘Edward the Second’
The New Theatre Project at Mix Studio Theater, 130 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti. Previews 8 p.m. March 1-3; runs 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday, March 8-31. Contains violence, strong language, sexual simulations, and nudity; audience members under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. $15 adult, $10 student & industry. 734-961-8704. http://www.TheNewTheatreProject.org