The rise and fall of British monarch Edward II has been dramatized many times onstage and oncreen, most notably in the Christopher Marlowe and Bertolt Brecht plays. The historical story weaves a web as tangled as any Shakespearean tragedy, rife with complex political intrigues and epic power struggles. Newer interpretations have played up the homoerotic aspects, focusing on Edward's ruinous romantic bond with Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall. This debuting operatic-styled musical, set in modern times, zeroes in on this part of Edward's personal and political lives, simplifying the labyrinthine historical trajectory to suit a tragic love story. The intent is to evoke strong topical implications in an era wherein many fear governmental leaders and religious-right forces threaten to obliterate decades of gay-rights advancements. It's a noble ambition, and in director Derek Charles Livingston's production, there are gorgeously poetic moments. Yet the overall piece fails to merge the art form and the subject matter into a satisfying dramatic whole.
In simplifying the historical context, librettist/lyricist Ken Prestininzi and composer Christopher Winslow have created a two-hour show that feels protracted and repetitive. Several moments, such as a sequence in which several characters pray, last longer than necessary. The lyrics tend to reiterate points that have already been well-established. Livingston makes great efforts to counteract the thinness of the material with exciting staging techniques, allowing the actors a breadth of physical movement that's more graceful and demonstrative than any intellectual and vocal nuances they can glean from the droning recitative. It's no accident that segments of extended choreographic movement, sans singing, provide the evening's most indelible imagery.
The actors, led by Beau Puckett as Edward and Charles Alan as Gaveston, approach their roles with passionate conviction, achieving respectable results, considering the limitations of the material. As the conniving duo of Queen Isabel and Lord Mortimer, Susan Asbjornson and Jack Harding deliver creditable portrayals. Fine work is tuned in by set designer Mercedes Younger, lighting designer Kathi O'Donohue, costumer Milsa Watson, music director Darryl Archibald, and pianist/conductor Richard Berent. A musical telling of this forbidden historical romance sounds promising, but this vehicle has a ways to go before becoming a "favourite" fit for a king.
"Gaveston, Favourite of the King," presented by and at the Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 3 pm. Jan. 14-Feb. 20. $20-25. (323) 957-1884.