THEATER REVIEW: A splendid “Edward II” looks at gay king whose love cost him and England dearly

Blind ambition, greed, power hunger, betrayal and oh, yeah – a gay monarch. Just an average day in politics, right?

Oh. You think that’s too cynical?

Consider Christopher Marlowe’s “Edward II,” the saga of the 14th-century English monarch who ignored affairs of state (and his queen), preferring to cavort with French boytoy Piers de Gaveston – to tragic results.

You remember Marlowe; he’s that guy some people say wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Diversionary Theatre presents “Edward II” through Oct. 2, directed by Richard Baird, former city resident and founder of Poor Players Theatre.

Just as the U.S. has a tripartite governmental structure, medieval England was run by three often opposing forces: the monarchy, the nobles and the church, not necessarily in order of importance.

At the top of the play, King Edward II (Ross Hellwig), by all accounts a weak ruler, recalls Gaveston (Dangerfield G. Moore), who had been exiled by the monarch’s now dead father.

The nobles are incensed, the queen distraught, the church aghast at this, for their own reasons. The nobles, especially Mortimer (John Polak), are particularly annoyed when the king bestows several titles on his lover – Duke of Cornwall, for one – which makes him one of them.

The play revolves around the political machinations that ensue, alliances formed and broken and plots hatched – all to rid England of Gaveston, the king, or both. There are no innocent parties here: even the wronged queen turns out to have an agenda.

Baird’s intelligent adaptation eliminates nonessential characters and limits the action to what’s required for understanding this political play.

He’s found a spot-on cast, headed by Hellwig’s sparkling performance as the tragic monarch whose choice of love over duty will cost him and his country dearly.

Moore’s party-loving Gaveston is fun to watch, at least until he, too, is infected by the power bug.

The nobles - John Tessmer, Jeff Anthony Miller, Reed Willard – are excellent. Polak is particularly fine as the power-hungry chief plotter Mortimer, whose naked ambition will take down more than than he’s planning on.

Alexandra Grossi gives a lovely and sad portrait of the wronged queen – until she, too, sees something she wants and plots to get it.

Ronnie Larsen provides welcome comic relief as the portly Baldock, the short-lived Bishop of Coventry and another minor character.

The message? Politics is a bloody business, blind ambition and lust unreliable as guiding lights.

And lest anyone think this a musty old piece of history, I toss out Larry Craig, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer for your consideration.

The details

“Edward II” plays through Oct. 2 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

For tickets call (619) 220-0097 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.