Tue Aug 12 2008
Photograph: Erica Parise
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
A man named Will made his living out of political intrigue and comedy, so it’s only appropriate that some 350 years later, Timothy Findley turns a lively mirror back on Shakespeare. Believing that parts of Antony and Cleopatra were based on Elizabeth I’s decision not to pardon her beloved Earl of Essex, Elizabeth Rex focuses on those hours before the execution, as the queen, seeking distraction, spends a long evening with Shakespeare’s troupe. Findley, unwisely, mimics his source too closely: Enjoyable as the troupe’s aged clown (Bill Galarno), punning seamstress (Rebecca Challis) and lecherous actor (Oliver Conant) are, a surfeit of subplots unbalances the show.
What is fascinating is the clash between the shrill, violent, and stubborn monarch (the manly Stephanie Barton-Farcas) and Ned Lowenscroft (Michael DiGioia), a feisty, quick-witted, emotional actor known for his feminine roles. Ned spars with Elizabeth, shaking up her emotions (and his own) through his liberal recitations of Shakespeare. It’s a close match, with Barton-Farcas equalling the dry, diva-like DiGioia, even though she’s forced to be an overenunciating bully for most of the play.
Ned is dying from the pox, so he acts in order to forget that he exists. Joanne Zipay’s gritty direction—down to the torn costumes and grimy makeup—keeps the importance and danger of distraction in view. The playwright may not know what to do with all his characters and themes, but Zipay reminds us that all the world’s a stage.