Elizabeth Rex. Elizabeth the King. A great title for a play about a ruler who is a woman, even though she is not truly allowed to behave like one.
Timothy Findley’s play takes place the night before the execution for treason of the Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth’s lover. Elizabeth (Stephanie Barton-Farcas), in an effort to keep herself occupied, has the Lord Chamberlain’s Men perform Much Ado About Nothing. Due to a curfew, Shakespeare and some of his actors are forced to bed down in the stables, where Elizabeth secretly meets them and spends the night, looking for entertainment, or at least diversion. Instead she becomes fascinated with the play’s Beatrice, an actor named Ned Lowenscroft (Michael Digioia), the best player of women of his age. She issues a challenge to Ned. She will teach him, an effeminate homosexual, how to be a real man, if he can teach her, a woman who has had to sublimate her feminine qualities for the sake of the nation, to be a real woman. What follows is a fascinating fight for dominance between two seemingly self-assured, but ultimately lonely and vulnerable people.
Nicu’s Spoon’s production features a strong ensemble, although it’s Barton-Farcas who steals the show. Her Elizabeth is as imperious as would be expected and thanks to Rien Schlecht’s costumes and makeup, looks as though she stepped out of a painting. It is in Elizabeth’s vulnerable moments that Barton-Farcas truly shines as she allows the woman inside Elizabeth to show. There are several wonderful transformations as Elizabeth is softened from the queen to the woman, and Barton-Farcas does some excellent work.
Digioia’s work is outstanding, though his character doesn’t undergo nearly the same level of physical transformation that Elizabeth does. Ned, as it turns out, doesn’t need lessons on being a man – he is one, though he may not be what others envision when they think of that term. His transformation seems to be more in making others see and acknowledge him.
While the rest of the cast play their roles admirably, with one deserving special praise. Bill Galarno, as Percy Gower, an aging clown who in his day was one of the most sought after players of ingénues, is both comical and at times quite touching in his portrayal of a man who spends all his time looking back at his glory days.
While director Joanne Zipay occasionally allows the pace to drag and lets some of the actors overplay, Elizabeth Rex is a solid production of an intriguing and compelling play. Nicu’s Spoon continues to produce theater that challenges and entertains.
(Elizabeth Rex also features Rebecca Challis, Oliver Conant, Melanie Horton, Andrew Hutcheson, Merle Louise, Sammy Mena, Scott Nogi, Tim Romero, Alvaro Sena, and David Tully)
Copyright 2008 by Byrne Harrison
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