Kenajuan Bentley and Marc Vietor in Edward the Second
(© Brian Dilg)
Kenajuan Bentley and Marc Vietor in Edward the Second
(© Brian Dilg)
Despite a full-frontal same-sex nude scene, a castration, several hangings, a beheading, and a rather infamous incident involving a red hot poker, Red Bull Theater's staging of Christopher Marlowe's Edward the Second, currently on view at Playwrights Horizons' Peter Jay Sharp Theater, is strangely passionless. While the production has a very stylish visual aesthetic, director Jesse Berger has achieved such uneven results with his cast that the nearly two-and-a-half-hour play only rarely stirs the blood.

Adapted from the original Marlowe work by the late Garland Wright, this Edward emphasizes the homosexual relationship between Edward (Marc Vietor) and Gaveston (Kenajuan Bentley), as well as the homophobic response it engenders from the peers of England. In this respect, it owes much to Derek Jarman's brilliant 1991 film treatment of the play. Wright also interpolates a few lines from other Marlowe works, including his famous "Come live with me and be my love" lyric from his poem, "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love."

The production maintains the complexity of the power struggle created when Edward lavishes undeserved titles upon his favorite, incurring the peers' wrath, and particularly that of Mortimer (Matthew Rauch). Edward's neglected queen Isabella (Claire Lautier) eventually binds her fate to Mortimer, while the king's brother Kent (Lucas Hall) has such conflicted loyalties that he keeps flip-flopping allegiances. There is no clear moral high ground, as the faults of Edward's reign are real, but the peers' response is excessive.

Unfortunately, Vietor's lackluster Edward only conveys the king's weaknesses and not his strengths. He doesn't have the air of command necessary to make his more impassioned moments feel real. Bentley's Gaveston has far more charisma and a sexy petulance. Sadly, the tepid chemistry between the actors doesn't match up with the fiery passion their characters supposedly feel for one another. Lautier looks fantastic in Clint Ramos' gorgeous costumes, but her emotional response to Edward's cruel words to Isabella feel false, and she declaims her major speeches in too forced a manner. She also tries for a faint French accent which is, at best, inconsistent.

Faring better is Rauch's Mortimer who does possess the authority necessary to show how the character's ambitions drive his ruthless actions. Hall nicely conveys Kent's inner conflicts, and his self-recriminations and impassioned arguments are perfectly modulated. Queer as Folk's Randy Harrison portrays Gaveston's friend Spencer -- whose role has been slightly built up in Wright's adaptation -- but the popular actor flounders in the part.

John Arnone's spare yet versatile set includes two sunken walkways that allow for some interesting stage compositions. Ramos' costumes aim for a 1930s look with a gender-bending sensibility, and a predilection for black leather. Peter West's lighting is also marvelously evocative. But no matter how visually sumptuous the production is, without a consistently engaging acting ensemble, the play fails to come to life.