by Beki Pineda

ELIZABETH REX – Written by Timothy Findley; Directed by Patrick Brownson.  Produced by Lost and Found Productions (Presented at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo St, Denver) through July 14.  Tickets available at 303/477-5977 or lostandfoundproductions.net.

It’s always fun to explore the aesthetic of a new (to me) theatre company.  Will they embrace a lean-and-mean stripped down mentality or go overboard on costumes and sets?  Are they able to attract good players for the lead roles?  Is the production professionally directed and mounted? I’m happy to report for those of you who have yet to see a Lost and Found production that you can trust their professionalism and theatre sensibilities.  In ELIZABETH REX, they have recruited a top notch cast – even for the minor roles – and demonstrated a deep knowledge of theatricality and Shakespearean history.

Playwright Findley has created an unlikely but strangely authentic scenario in his most successful play.  The Lord Chamberlain’s Men – Shakespeare’s acting company – have been caught by the curfew imposed on the eve of the beheading of the Earl of Essex, the Queen’s supposed lover who, because of the convoluted political alliances of the time, appeared to rise up against her.  They are confined to an outbuilding somewhere on the Queen’s property; she had summoned them to perform MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING to distract her from her grief. The unlikely part is that the Queen chooses to visit them in their confinement and spends the night in discussion about their lifestyle, their plays and gender politics. She knows Shakespeare – the man and his work – and enjoys discussing the past plays and their correlation to actual history.

She is especially taken with Ned Lowenscroft, the actor who portrays all the women characters for the company, and his ability to assume a female persona so easily.  She has been forced by her position to think and act like a man all her life to the point that she feels she has forgotten how to feel like woman.  Ned as a gay man has to pretend to be a man in order to survive yet wishes to mourn publicly the death of his lover, a soldier killed in battle.  She offers to teach him to be a man if he will teach her to be a woman.

The night progresses as Shakespeare sits in the corner working on his next play – ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.  For their own reasons, the Company wishes that she would pardon the Earl of Essex and let him live.  She too wishes there was a way she could politically forgive him without threatening her hold over the court.  Her inner conflict between womanly pain and royal resolution effects them all.  The relationship between monarch and subject was portrayed realistically with bows and curtsies eventually replaced by shared drinks and a deeper understanding of the role of each.

The cast is led by Margaret Casart who is not seen on stage nearly often enough recently.  Her Elizabeth is both royal and human. Ned Lowenscroft is played by Sean Guderian with genuine grief and anger at his lot in life.  He is delicate enough to play a woman yet dynamic enough to be a man.  Fellow actor Jonathan Edmund fumes quietly against the Queen that is warring against his Irish countrymen.  Seth Palmer Harris brings a seething intensity to the role of a man determined to speak out against his Queen, yet does not want to bring down her wrath on himself or his company of players.  Sophie Handy as the company costumer; Colin Ahern as the Company character actor (and womanizer) and Kevin Durkin as the former female actor now grown too old all provide the comic relief. It’s delightful to note that actors in Elizabethan times are presumed to act backstage the same as they do in modern times.  Drinking, flirting, working on their lines, recalling past glories, worrying about the future . . . . it’s all the same today.

Greg West’s costumes add authenticity to the production while not drawing attention to themselves.  The set designed by Colin Roybal, the lighting of Kevin Taylor, and the props found by Lauren Gibbons all add to our acceptance of the time and locale.  The sound design by Brian Rollins offers especially effective use of cannons and bells tolling to signify the passing of time. Director Brownson has taken us back in time and re-introduced us to Elizabeth I, the Queen and the woman.

A WOW factor of 8.5!