"Edward III" was published anonymously, and was thought to be designed as something of a propaganda piece against the Scottish people. It was not originally included in the first folio of Shakespeare's works, and has remained a somewhat controversial work among scholars for that reason, among others.
Interesting, then, that the Ashland New Plays Festival elected to make this play, in collaboration with the Hitz Foundation — underwriter of OSF's "Play On!" project, itself a decidedly disputatious player on the national theater scene — its first major presentation of the 2017 season. The one-night-only performance was staged Monday, March 27, in the SOU Music Recital Hall.
Fortunately, the decision was a good one. Performed by a group of excellent actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the translation to modern verse by award-winning playwright Octavio Solis is a lyrical, sensitive work by a gifted dramatist. Solis has clearly not cut corners in his research into the play. His sharp and inspired version is illuminating, accessible and cleverly executed.
While most of the players give strong performances, the crux of the action hinges on interactions between Armando Duran as King Edward and Vilma Silva as the Countess of Salisbury. Duran's Edward is a gas-lighting rogue with motives that are definitively unsavory — a result of his carnal infatuation with Catherine. Silva paints a chilling portrait as the victim of aristocratic power dynamics, a reticent inamorata who, in an attempt to rebuff Edward, inadvertently sets in place a nefarious plot to murder both her husband and Edward's current Queen. Thankfully, Edward's noblesse oblige wins out. He regains his senses and recommits to his kingly duties. What follows is a potent commentary on the complexities of leadership and the effects of personal ego on war and the balance of power — themes that could hardly be more timely.
Other strong performances were made by Devin White as Prince Edward and John Pribyl as Lodowick. Kyle Haden's snarky turn as the pugilistic Duke of Lorraine was a particularly amusing display of mano-a-mano braggadocio.
Some purists may feel that a modern verse translation of this, or any other, Shakespeare is an exercise in futility, a sort of Cliffs Note variation for the uncivilized or lazy. I beg to differ. What Solis has given us is a powerful reworking of a classic text. The combined efforts of the Play On! project and the ANPF — the excellent actors who were willing to participate in an adventurous re-imagining of the most important work in the English language — is an experiment that has clearly paid off with "Edward III."
Solis and director Dawn Monique Williams have done a service to their audience and to the wider theatrical world by approaching such a complex and divisive project with brilliance, nuance and a depth of appreciation for Shakespeare that can only add to the richness of experiencing the Bard. It is most exciting to be present to witness the early fruition of a most commendable and cutting-edge project.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.