Theater Review|'Mary Stuart'
During this inclement week of downpours and cloud-strewn skies, I found myself depressed. Not because of the weather, no, but because I was missing out on it. I have always loved the rain, the refreshing tranquility that comes from feeling beads of water massage my entire body. For a long time I thought this was odd, the fact that I have never owned an umbrella, until I saw the incredible revival of “Mary Stuart” at the Broadhurst Theatre, which opened April 19.
The titular character of Schiller’s classic, played by Janet McTeer reprising her role in the London Production, celebrates her freedom from prison in a spectacularly simulated rainstorm on stage, dancing and acting like a child after a wrongful imprisonment by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. The play is a constant battle between the two Queens, despite them only meeting once (but what a meeting!). While that little anomaly never did happen in real life, the rest is accurate; Mary, Queen of Scots, being the last legitimate child of King James V, sees herself as the rightful Queen of England, as Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, which, of course, means she’s a bastard. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, anyway. England, however, is a Protestant country now, with the Pope being viewed as their mortal enemy. I seem to have much in common with Elizabeth as well.
That’s wherein the drama lies. Two Queens bound by blood and rank, share as many similarities as differences. The cold, rational, selfish Elizabeth, deftly portrayed by Harriet Walter, serves the perfect complement to Mary, the earthy, downtrodden Queen supported in England only by a band of rebels. Among these rebels is Mortimer, played by Chandler Williams, whose infatuation with Mary Stuart leads to hysterics and destruction. Bouncing back and forth between the struggles of the two women (and in fact the men) the play examines not only political struggle, but personal struggles as well.
The production is seemingly flawless and entertaining, with a spectacularly sparse set design by Anthony Ward and highly emotional lighting and sound. The rich costumes of the two women, also by Mr. Ward, certainly do not disappoint in any way. And the clever dressing of the men in more contemporary garments adds intelligence to a production that can easily be classified as a “costume drama”. It’s the mark of a good designer that every choice has a narrative thought and meaning behind it, not just an aesthetic one. These spectacles, while certainly enhancing to the play, are merely the cherry atop the sundae; it would have been just as rewarding to see the two Queens duke it out with only their acting skills.
It is the now iconic scene that opens up the second act that makes this production of Mary Stuart; two highly concentrated personalities finally have a confrontation, one that brings more ruin than the torrential storm. There are few words that are good enough to describe the emotion felt by the audience, and none that can describe the interaction between the two Queens. It is simply something that needs to be watched.
By Friedrich Schiller; new version by Peter Oswald; directed by Phyllida Lloyd; sets and costumes by Anthony Ward; lighting by Hugh Vanstone; sound by Paul Arditti; technical supervisors, Aurora Productions. A Donmar Warehouse production, presented by Arielle Tepper Madover, Debra Black, Neal Street Productions/Matthew Byam Shaw, Scott Delman, Barbara Whitman, Jean Doumanian/Ruth Hendel, David Binder/CarlWend Productions/Spring Sirkin, Daryl Roth/James L. Nederlander/Chase Mishkin. At the Broadhurst Theater, 235 West 44th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200. Through Aug. 16. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
WITH: Janet McTeer (Mary Stuart), Harriet Walter (Elizabeth), Tony Carlin (Courtier/Officer), Michael Countryman (Sir Amias Paulet), Adam Greer (O’Kelly/Courtier/Officer), John Benjamin Hickey (Earl of Leicester), Guy Paul (Courtier/Officer), Michael Rudko (Count Aubespine/Melvil), Robert Stanton (Sir William Davison), Maria Tucci (Hanna Kennedy), Chandler Williams (Mortimer), Nicholas Woodeson (Lord Burleigh) and Brian Murray (Earl of Shrewsbury).