Edward II

Triangle Productions, at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, 239-5919, Thurs 7:30 pm, Fri-Sat 8 pm, through March 20, $17-23

King Edward II (Michael Mendelson) is a sad sack throne-warmer, dead set on running his royalty into the ground. The borders are insecure, his lords don't take him seriously, and his Jackie Kennedy queen is shagging his friend on the sly. Enter Gaveston (Kelsy Tyler, in a shocking turn from his last Triangle role as Bing Crosby), the ham-fisted leather boy who has returned from exile to enjoy the love of the King. Tyler's Gaveston seems to have cruised in from a Genet drama, a psychopathic hustler with a belt-loop swagger. Edward's court is so incensed by the King's disregard for propriety and Gaveston's cocksure strut that they plot to eliminate Gaveston or usurp Edward. In true tragic fashion, the dominoes start falling and the heads start rolling.

Christopher Marlowe's 16th-Century tragedy is just as eloquently heavy as Shakespeare, and in a way the underdog Marlowe surpasses the Bard in his taut, brutal account of the fall of a king. Where Shakespeare plays dress-up in charming, gender-bending comedies, Marlowe shrugs off cuteness in his portrayal of homoerotic lust. Director Andres Alcala doesn't need to take a revisionist slant or inject contemporary adaptation into Edward II--all of the full-frontal lust, homophobia, and political violence is right there in the original script. Alcala, along with production designer Don Horn, have made the play into a stripped-down, teeth-grinding head rush, a play that's less about passion than it is about cruel hatred.

Edward II is staged as if on an altar, waiting for ritual and sacrificial blood. Characters emerge from the darkness in stark white tuxedo shirts, but behind the neat dignity of the players is an inner hell, a dark, septic tank hole, the cut-off heads and ribcages of Francis Bacon's nightmares. Death comes cheap, and each murder is rung in by a blood-curdling choir of screams. Alcala's use of a small cast to fill dozens of characters works for efficiency's sake, but at times one gets lost in the repetitive muddle of faces. Triangle's production of Edward II refrains from any judgment or sentiment. By not force-feeding the audience a clear moral, it succeeds as a provocative look at political violence. TOUSSAINT PERRAULT