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Gender politics

Marlowe's tale of Edward II given new relevance in local production

Assistant director Lara Rae (left) and artistic director Mel Marginet, who also plays the king’s son, a boy transitioning to a woman.

SOLMUND MACPHERSON

Assistant director Lara Rae (left) and artistic director Mel Marginet, who also plays the king’s son, a boy transitioning to a woman.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/10/2015 (1355 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In contemporary pop culture, the story of the English monarch Edward II was brutally summed up in a single scene in the movie Braveheart. Recall the scene in which the fey Prince Edward is stunned when his father, Edward Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan), tosses the prince's male lover out a tower window, a moment often referenced as evidence of director Mel Gibson's homophobic tendencies.

Suffice it to say, speculation on the younger Edward's sexuality didn't start with Gibson. In 1593, playwright Christopher Marlowe wrote Edward II, a historic drama examining the murder and treachery that accompanied Edward II's reign. Marlowe didn't stint on the king's unabashedly sexual affection for his friend, Gaveston, presenting it with none of the subtextual ambiguity one might expect from the era.

But that candour alone wasn't the incentive for the Winnipeg company Theatre by the River to mount a production of Edward II, says artistic director Mel Marginet.

"When we were looking at various shows, this one kind of stood out on the front lines, not only for the queer themes that are involved," Marginet, 32, says in a phone interview.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/10/2015 (1355 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In contemporary pop culture, the story of the English monarch Edward II was brutally summed up in a single scene in the movie Braveheart. Recall the scene in which the fey Prince Edward is stunned when his father, Edward Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan), tosses the prince's male lover out a tower window, a moment often referenced as evidence of director Mel Gibson's homophobic tendencies.

Suffice it to say, speculation on the younger Edward's sexuality didn't start with Gibson. In 1593, playwright Christopher Marlowe wrote Edward II, a historic drama examining the murder and treachery that accompanied Edward II's reign. Marlowe didn't stint on the king's unabashedly sexual affection for his friend, Gaveston, presenting it with none of the subtextual ambiguity one might expect from the era.

Lara Rae

Lara Rae

But that candour alone wasn't the incentive for the Winnipeg company Theatre by the River to mount a production of Edward II, says artistic director Mel Marginet.

"When we were looking at various shows, this one kind of stood out on the front lines, not only for the queer themes that are involved," Marginet, 32, says in a phone interview.

The play's portrayal of back-room political intrigue seemed especially pertinent, she says.

"At the time we chose this play, we were in the middle of the mayoral election in Winnipeg and things were kind of funky on the provincial front with the NDP having their split," she says. "And we were looking ahead, thinking, 'If we stage this in the fall of 2015, we'll probably have a federal election as well.' "

That dynamic seemed relevant, Marginet says, in the portrayal of Edward as "a reluctant ruler."

"Those around him are able to manipulate him and influence him, and he has an inability as a leader to stand up for what he wants till it's too late and things are out of his hands."

An additional layer of gender politics was added in the contemporized adaptation of the play by Winnipeg writer Kendra Jones at the behest of director Sarah Constible, Marginet says.

"She was interested in speaking to its relevance today because gay relationships are so accepted," Marginet says.

Hence, in this version, the nobles' disapproval of Gaveston is "because he's not royal, because he's low-born."

"He's been given these titles and given this influence, and according to them, he doesn't deserve it. And King Edward is not a good king when Gaveston is around. He's a bad influence on him.

"So Sarah came in with that eye, focusing the play in that direction and then bringing in that (Edward II's son) the prince is a transgender character.

Karl Thordarson (left) as Gaveston and Toby Hughes as the bishop.

PHOTOS BY SOLMUND MACPHERSON

Karl Thordarson (left) as Gaveston and Toby Hughes as the bishop.

"We exist in a world where (a homosexual relationship) is acceptable and accepted. Our audience won't be like: 'They're gay?!' "Marginet says.

"It doesn't have that provocative aspect to it, so we felt we had to move it forward and move the themes forward."

In handling the transgender theme, Constible enlisted local writer-producer Lara Rey to co-direct. Lara was previously known as Al Rae, artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival and co-creator of the CBC series Little Mosque on the Prairie. Rae announced her own gender transition this summer.

"Sarah was able to bring in Lara to bring in that authenticity, to be able to make sure we're on the right track in exploring the themes of going through that transition from a teenage boy's perspective," says Marginet, who herself plays the prince.

"She was able to answer a lot of my questions and just make me feel more confident that I'm representing things correctly and that we're on the right track there."

"It was something that was conceived of before I arrived," says Rae, 53. "But I think part of the reason I was invited to assistant-direct was: could I look at this and, based on my own personal experience, could I bring anything to the table in terms of what this would be like for a young person? What are some of the things that I did that they might be able to incorporate? So that was part of the process.

"Now that it's perfectly fine to do Edward II and be perfectly unambiguous about Gaveston and Edward II's relationship, in order to have the same kind of a shock that we might have had in 1970, we've moved to the next frontier," Rae says. "And the next challenge in LGBT issues is that it's still kind of a struggle for transgender people like myself to get full acceptance."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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History

Updated on Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 8:18 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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