I won't add my voice to the cacophony of complaints about the gratuitous nudity forever on display at Nearly Naked Theatre, in part because I don't care, but also because it's bad form to bitch that the players are undraped when we've been warned ahead of time. The name of the theater is Nearly Naked. Enough with the whining already.
There's quite a lot more to see than the various willies and hooters on display in E2: A Heretical Adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Edward the Second. Unfortunately, our vision is clouded by a cast incapable of bringing director/playwright Damon Dering's bold adaptation to life. If there's a problem with Dering's revisionist Edward II, it's that it's too ambitious. Phoenix's shallow pool of classically trained actors must have all been out shopping on the day that Dering cast his Edward because, with a single exception, these thespians just don't have what it takes. As a result, this complex and difficult piece of theater never really gets off the ground.
Although he's written and staged some stunning scenes and penned some nicely rhythmic speeches, Dering's cast mostly can't keep up. Marlowe's Edward II is a history play portraying the events surrounding the fall of Edward II and the accession of Edward III, one that's centuries ahead of its own time in its forthright take on homosexuality, crooked politicians and the corrupt church. Dering has taken a cut-and-paste approach to Marlowe's text, lifting entire monologues from the original and grafting them onto his own. His combination of contemporary and classical styles is a clever conceit most obvious in asides aimed at Marlowe's original writing; unfortunately, most of these muttered remarks are handed to David Ojala, whose performance as Piers de Gaveston is uninspired and bland.
E2: A Heretical Adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Edward the Second
Phoenix Theatre's Little Theatre, 100 East McDowell Road
Continues through June 26. Call 602-254-2151.
Ojala is in fine company. Although I enjoyed Joy Strimple as several different bishops, only Heather Harper as Queen Isabella turned in a worthy performance. Dering has no sympathy for the wronged queen, and Harper, under his astute direction, is a powerful villainess who holds the audience with wide eyes and a performance giddy with revenge. Scott Dillon's Edward has some moments, but his reading is pedestrian and his emoting too unskilled to convince us he's a king. The rest of the cast -- all of them women playing men -- serve only to fill up the stage, dressed as English schoolboys in button-down shirts and narrow ties.
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Too bad. Dering devoted more than a year of his life to bringing this adaptation to the stage, and it deserves a better staging than he's been able to give it here.