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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Gaveston, Favourite of the King
By David Avery
Like most historical depictions, Gaveston, Favourite of the King muddles some of the facts of Edward II's life. It amalgamates the historical personages of Thomas of Lancaster and Roger Mortimer, combining their individual insurrections into one. The musical conveniently ignores a later love interest (Hugh le Dispenser the Younger) and the major role Isabella had in Edward's imprisonment, torture, and eventual death. For the most part, however, the book does hit the high points of Edward's struggles on the throne, and in the correct sequence.
The action starts with the coronation of Edward II, and his recall of the banished Gaveston from France (Gaveston was exiled by Edward's father in an attempt to set his son "straight," and felt Gaveston was a bad influence). Both are obviously happy with the change of circumstance, though it appears that Edward is much more in love than Gaveston, as evidenced by Gaveston's declaration "I shall enjoy this milk-white king". He and Edward immediate resume their love affair, much to the chagrin of the Parliament and, more pointedly, Lord Mortimer.
The show ambitiously operates on two levels: as a tragic love affair and as a commentary on modern times. That the title character is depicted as a schemer, lends depth to the nature of the King's fall. The sung-through presentation (there are only a handful of spoken lines) supports the grand theme of forbidden love that cannot be denied. Edward's relationship with Gaveston points to his lack of concern and understanding of state craft. He is portrayed as not understanding, or not caring, why it upsets people around him -- like Mortimer who warns "Send your fancy far away again/and visit it if you must -- in the summertime." Mortimer's warnings often take the form of Greek chorus-like addresses to the audience.
Milsa Watson's modern costuming puts the show firmly in present times, probably to relate Edward's struggle to that faced by many same-sex couples in today's society. The uniforms of the royal family during the coronation are modern day British, and Gaveston's costume wouldn't look out of place in a Hollywood nightclub. During the battle scenes, the familiar sight of fatigues and automatic rifles could be taken from any news story on Iraq. I'm not sure, however, that Gaveston , Favourite of the King makes the correct analogies. Yes, Edward and Gaveston's persecution by the powers that be was tragic; historically, though, Edward lost his kingship not so much because he was homosexual, but because he was a bad king unschooled in the game of politics. Gaveston was not of the "Peerage", and his elevation by the King to their ranks would be much more noxious than any homosexual proclivities.
The cast is uniformly solid. In "Funeral and Coronation/The Call", Edward II (Beau Puckett) is obviously ecstatic at his change in circumstance, and head over heels for his returning love. Still, he comments on how he knows Gaveston "doesn't love me like I love you," a foreshadowing of trouble. His distain for politics is evident in "Your Majesty" as the Parliament all exhort him for favors. Gaveston (Charles Alan) is presented as a smooth-talking seducer who believes he is in control now that Edward is king. He flaunts the relationship with Edward to the distress of Lord Mortimer and Isabel (Jack Harding and Susan Asbjornson, respectively), also in "Your Majesty."
Isabel is presented as a scorned woman who, though she loves Edward, betrays him ("Queen Isabel"). Mortimer obviously despises Edward and Gaveston's relationship, and uses it as a pretext for revolution ("Lord Mortimer").
This is Ken Prestininzi and and Christopher Winslow's second collaboration (the first being a musical version of Pe'er Gynt). Prestininzi 's libretto is pretty dense; at times, the actors rush through the words to get them all in -- a little pruning might help with the rhythm. Winslow's music is quirky and atonal, but accessible. The themes and lyrics of Act I's closing and aria, "Heroes and Saints" are repeated sparingly throughout Act II. Songs like "Look Around You," "Day of My Birth," and "The Prayer") have disparate and complicated interweaving musical lines that the cast handles flawlessly, creating some very fine ensemble moments. The music is played by a quartet of two violins, a cello, and piano.
We also get some musical humor with Isabel -- after she betrays Edward, her singing becomes strident and hysterical. She returns to a more dulcet register when they reconcile. One of the show's best moments is the quiet "Education" in which Edward instructs the Young Prince Edward (Barry O'Neil) on how not to fall from power -- advice Edward II wishes he had taken. Some of the voices in this company, many of whom are opera trained, are so big that they tend at times tend to overpower the small space.
Director Derek Charles Livingston has used a very small playing area well to tell a very big tale. The battle scenes are especially well done, calling to mind many productions of Shakespeare's histories with multiple groups of characters running on and off stage to give an impression of an immense conflict in a limited area. Mercedes Younger's set is simple and uniformly dark grey, probably a necessity with the small space, but it forces the audience to focus on the characters.
Gaveston, Favourite of the King suffers a bit from ODS (Overly Dramatic Syndrome). While the production would probably play better in a bigger theater, it has much to offer exactly where it is now: A libretto rich with interesting ideas, and a well sung and acted musical history lesson.
Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II also depicts the relationship between Gaveston and Edward II. It was performed in London in 2003 and reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge.
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