by Kris Vire
Marlowe’s the only playwright listed in the program. But even casual observers of Chicago theater know that when the director is Graney, an “adapted by” credit is implied. Graney’s textual tweaks have been a Hypocrites hallmark for years, though some of his trials have lacked clarity of purpose. But his bold cutting of Marlowe’s tale of Edward’s tumultuous reign and eventual downfall shows us that the director’s messing around has been building to something. The muscular result is a stunning achievement.
By excising much of the back-and-forth between Edward and his challenger, Mortimer, as well as other political machinations, Graney focuses his take squarely on sexuality. If Marlowe’s original allows some doubt about the motivations of Mortimer and his followers, Graney makes it clear that in his version (as in Derek Jarman’s 1991 film), they’re driven solely by macho distaste for Edward’s lusty relationship with his male lover Gaveston. Though obviously timeless, this concentrated focus on both mob mentality and leadership distracted by frivolity feels tailored to the moment.
Graney stages the action in the “promenade” style he’s experimented with in such Hypocrites productions as Mud and Miss Julie. Yet Todd Rosenthal’s smartly gritty set allows a geographical fluidity that ensures the audience is part of the action rather than simply wandering observers, making Edward II feel deliciously dangerous. That’s just an illusion—the actors demonstrate absolute control of both the text and the traffic. Led by Chicago stalwart Karen Aldridge, at the top of her game as jilted Queen Isabella, and Jeffrey Carlson, a dynamic fop of fierce precision as the king, the entire exhilarating ensemble turns in masterful work. Graney’s Marlowe is a new high-water mark.