Performance Network is just one of only three theaters with rights to perform Timothy Findley”s new play, “Elizabeth Rex.” The generally funny play, which premiered at the Stratford Festival in 2000, will run at the Performance Network playhouse through March 3rd.
“Elizabeth Rex” is based upon the Essex Rebellion. The Earl of Essex, a confidant of Queen Elizabeth, planned to overthrow the Queen. The play takes place on Shrove Tuesday, the eve of Essex”s beheading and Ash Wednesday. That evening the Queen had summoned William Shakespeare and his players to perform for her. It is after that performance that the play begins.
The play opens with Will Shakespeare, played by Andrew Huff, reflecting upon his life on the eve of what he tells the audience is his death. Will is soon joined by his players after having performed a play for Queen Elizabeth. According to “Elizabeth Rex,” Will staged “Much Ado About Nothing,” though this is not historically known for certain.
Shakespeare”s players provide a comical opening to the play. Ned, played by Thomas Hoagland, enters lively onto the scene having finished playing Beatrice and complaining of another player missing his lines. Ned takes on the roles of women in Shakespeare”s plays and is quite adept at doing so. After his tirade, the aged Percy, portrayed by Roy K. Dennison, talks of his days playing women and being sent flowers by men.
Elizabeth, played by Gillian Eaton, joins the players for their company, desiring that they stay awake with her until the cannon sounds Essex”s beheading. Throughout the first act, Ned and Elizabeth exchange jibes: Ned being more of the woman, and Elizabeth more of the man. These tensions between Ned and Elizabeth were strongly played out in the Performance Network version.
Will gives Elizabeth a way out, suggesting that she let Essex live, but Elizabeth refuses to do so. While the interaction between Elizabeth and Will increases during the second act, it is still overshadowed by the frankness of the interaction between Elizabeth and Ned. Will”s interaction is clearly more honest with the Queen than Ned”s. Also, the characters of Ned and Elizabeth feed off of one another, each supplying what the other character lacked in strength in terms of the written character.
Though “Elizabeth Rex” is a comedy, it is not without its serious moments. The second act drags with the anticipation of the sounding of the cannon. In terms of storyline, the second act brings out the discussion of loves and grieving for Will, Ned and Elizabeth. All confess their loves and come to terms with mourning.
In general, the play was strongly-acted, but the comedic elements of the first act are what made the play highly entertaining.