Reduce we all our lessons unto this:
To die, sweet Spenser, therefore live we all;
Spenser, all live to die, and rise to fall.
Though considerably abridged, this new production of Christopher Marlowe's historical masterwork is generally well played, dramatically sound, and true to the fatalistic moral (above) spoken by the tutor Baldock at the end of Act IV.
At that moment Edward, though still technically the reigning monarch of England, has gone on the run from his rebellious land barons, who've become sick of the frivolous King draining the treasury to favor his relatively low-born companions. Who is still loyal to Edward? Who will betray whom? As always in English history, what will France do? Characters switch sides and switch back, from motives both honorable (occasionally) and base (usually) in Marlowe's bloody tale of the scandalous early 14th century reign of Edward II, the Gay King.
Marlowe's play remains popular and vivid after more than 400 years for two reasons. It is a great play, with language that at times rivals Shakespeare's. As important, it is one of the few great works of classical literature whose protagonists are, essentially openly, homosexual. (Marlowe, probably gay himself, didn't make this up; the King's proclivities appear to have been generally acknowledged in his own time.) But this production wisely takes the amorous nature of Edward's relationship with the Gascon knight, Gaveston, as a given, and stresses the more proximate cause of his downfall: power politics.
Power, if not politics, was lacking at the start of the performance I saw. It was only the second night of the run, so the weakness was probably attributable to jitters; after a few scenes, the cast found its rhythm and the bulk of the play ran smoothly. Jason Summers portrayed Edward initially as something of a psychotic, sort of a Caligula without the brutality. His love for Gaveston seemed at first more obsessive than heartfelt, his subsequent grief rather mild and stately. But as the King's torturous downfall accelerated, Summers found the passion behind Edward's vanity, and he had several big, heartbreaking scenes. Torn by the barons' ultimate demand that he relinquish his crown, his wail - "No, no, no, no," wrenched the gut marvelously. As Marlowe's stage direction goes: The KING rageth. And he doth.