Rep Stage is presently performing “E2” an original play by local playwright, Bob Bartlett, directed by Joseph W. Ritsch, also the Producing Artistic Director of Rep Stage. The play will be performed at the Studio Theatre, Horwitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD until November 17, 2019.
“E2” is a reimagining of Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II.” Both Marlowe and Edward II were rumored to be homosexuals. Both men’s deaths have also been thought to be due to their homosexuality. Historians for both the king and the playwright have many interpretations of their lives and their deaths. Marlowe was killed either purposefully or in self-defense, depending on who you ask, and Edward died in prison either by natural causes or murdered for political reasons.
This play is moved to modern times. The king (Zack Powell) and queen (Dane Figueroa Edidi) have cell phones. The prince (Zach Rakotomaniraka) plays video games with his father. This Edward seems to be the part of modern European royalty who have wealth but no political power, just national figureheads. What remains true to the history is Edward’s relationship with Piers de Gaveston. Gaveston was a childhood friend of the king. He was exiled and then returned as a “favourite” of the king. (Favourites were generic terms for those who had the royal’s ear and access to his inner circles. They also had wealth and power.) Edward II both in this play and in reality was married to Isabella of France. It was an arranged marriage, but they had several children together. Even though Edward was more than ten years older than she, there seems to be some historical support that they had affections for each other.
There is also historical evidence that Isabella later took a lover, Sir Roger Mortimer (Robbie Gay). The two did plot to overthrow Edward II and replace him with Edward’s teenage son, Edward III. It is here that Bartlett’s allegory veers away from historical records. This is not really a play about a failed monarchy in medieval times, but the story about acceptance of those whose sexual preferences are different from ours. It is not even really the story of Marlowe’s gender identification. That does not matter. “E-2” is the story of two men whose love for each other is used against them to obtain power. It is a tragedy of society’s reaction to their love and devotion.
Powell’s King Edward II is much more modern than his medieval namesake. Powell’s emotional connections to Gaveston are powerful and explain his devotion to the man even though the king knows it puts them both in danger as well as endangering his family and even fellow countrymen. Powell and Edidi also create a touchingly human portrait of love gone wrong. We definitely feel Edward’s and Isabella’s fondness for each other. Powell’s best scenes are the ones with his son, Edward. The two have a very modern father and son relationship, as they play video games together. There is a visible bond between the two.
Ruiz develops his role into a multi-dimensional one. Gaveston both loves Edwards but certainly, after his encounter with Mortimer, Gaveston is less optimistic about how their relationship will end. Ruiz and Edidi both create tension between the present and former loves of Edward.
Edidi plays Isabella very sympathetically. We feel her loss of her husband’s affection and her attraction to Mortimer is one of loneliness and rejection. Edidi also reflects Isabella’s maternal side in her relationship with her son and her worry about his safety and his royal inheritance.
Mortimer is the villain of this play. Gay portrays him as the character we detest right from the start. He is manipulative and without empathy. He uses Isabella to make a power grab of his own.
Zach Rakotomaniraka is the young prince. This actor is only a sophomore in high school. Yet, he has great stage presence and gives a convincing performance especially in the scene where he confronts his father about his sexual behavior expressing the teen’s concern about his father’s life and his own ascendance to the throne. The final scene belongs to Rakotomaniraka, and he gives a strong performance.
‘E-2’ is the story of two men whose love for each other is used against them to obtain power. It is a tragedy of society’s reaction to their love and devotion.
Ritsch’s direction allows his actors to show development and emotion that keeps us transfixed on the story. He keeps us focused on the theme of the play through the use of his actors and his designers.
Nathaniel Sinnott’s Scenic Design and Sarah Tundermann’s Multimedia Design create powerful images. The set is mostly black and white. The rear of the stage uses projections, first of the characters during scene changes and to create locales, for example, a prison cell or a church. The only issue I had was the beds coming on and off repeatedly slowed the pace and distracted from the tension at times.
B. Benjamin Weigel’s Costume Design was unique and clever. His costumes, at least for the first few scenes, have us wondering for a bit if this is medieval times or present day. It made the introduction of cell phones even more startling.
Conor Mulligan’s Lighting Design is visually memorable. It creates mood and allows the audience to use their own minds to envision what is happening, for instance in the final prison scene with Gaveston.
The Sound Design, by Sarah O’Halloran, like the costumes, creates some ambiguity of time at the beginning of the show which helps bridge the historical time of Edward II and the present time of “E2.”
Jenny Male did a notable job as Intimacy and Fight Director. She not only does some well-choreographed duels, but this show could become awkward due to the explicit sexuality. She manages to keep the audience comfortable as they watch the private scenes between Edward and Gaveston, Gaveston and Mortimer and Mortimore and Isabella.
There are some inconsistencies in the plot, but overall it achieves its goal of having us question our values and beliefs. Perhaps, having the king appear to be just another self-indulgent member of the ruling class whose own needs come before his lover’s and his family’s safety may blur Bartlett’s message at times. Nevertheless, this is a powerful production. This is may be Bartlett’s intention, giving Edward a tragic flaw.
However, the play makes it’s point about acceptance. The LGBTQ community certainly is still persecuted. The world still can be a perilous place for those who are gay or trans. The acting and direction clearly hold our interest and make us think about our own values and perceptions.
“E2” is a show that is thought provoking for those of us who would like to think that prejudice is rare and remind us that even wealth and power cannot negate these deep-rooted feelings in our society.
Advisory: Due to the explicit sexual subject matter and strong language this play is recommended for mature audiences only.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes. No Intermission.
“E-2” plays at Rep Stage through November 17, 2019, in the Studio Theatre of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College — 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 518-1500, or purchase them online.