I saw Christopher Marlowe's Edward II staged for the first time the other night at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in their upstairs theater, which is like an extra-fancy black box. This is a 75-minute version, Marlowe Notes, quite fast-paced but well cut. The most intriguing thing about it was the staging; seats were available in a balcony all around the black box, but about 30 people, maybe, were standing on the floor of the box where the action mostly took place (there was some walking about the balcony or entering down the stairs to the floor). There were benches available, but they were also used for the actors to sit and stand as they moved around, especially to exit in and out the main doors.
This resulted in some careful shepherding by one stage manager, who was on the floor specially to tap people on the shoulder and move them ahead of time. Sometimes it was done by the extras or minor characters, and sometimes by the main characters themselves. There was one particularly hilarious moment when Edward is collapsing onto a bench and had no time but to do a regal sort of flick with his hands, which sent the audience members (neither of whom were young and agile) leaping sideways.
The actors must be incredibly focused. I got caught in the spotlight once when the people behind me wouldn't back up, so Isabella and Mortimer had to yell at each other with a silent third party looking on in complete terror. Isabella was wearing fake eyelashes, by the way.
That all being said, it was clearly a very creative staging, not as minimal as a black box normally implies. Kind of a modern bohemian twist on the whole play, with the executions taking place in a rusty, disused bathroom set up on the side, most soliloquies happening on a junkyard heap, and Gaveston glorying in his position in a white fur jacket and tiara. The unabashed, Paris Hilton-like flouncing about of Gaveston and Edward (who kiss quite a lot) creates some problems dramatically. If Gaveston really is that annoying, it's hard to blame the nobles for hating him, but of course, you hate them too in the end, and the play becomes a nihilist spiral downwards saved only by a very minor character, the prince, who rights the monarchical ship at the end. Ultimately, it's dramatically unsatisfying.
But fun. Marlowe's always fun and always has beautiful language. The actors handled it all extremely well, with only a few modern interspersions: "A featherbed." "Weird." I would certainly recommend it. But brace yourself for Edward's death. There were clearly some people who didn't know the play, and when that red-hot poker comes out, I saw some hands over mouths.