Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mary Stuart

photo: Joan Marcus

Peter Oswald's adaptation of Shiller's semi-fictionalized history play concerning Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots is snappy and sharp, as is this thoroughly engrossing production (imported from Donmar Warehouse) in which the two rival Queens wear period dress while the men of the court are costumed in modern suits. The theatrically striking anachronism serves to emphasize the commonality between the women, one imprisoned and awaiting death while the other rules and sits in indecisive judgment, while it also underlines the continued relevancy of the play's political intrigue. Except for an on-stage rainstorm the settings are simple and spartan - not much more than a bench, a bed and a desk - but the artful spareness is purposeful and effective, scaling the action on stage as larger than life. The supporting players are each excellent - could one even hope for a stronger Earl of Shrewsbury than Brian Murray, or a more believably slippery Earl of Leicester than John Benjamin Hickey? - but as in any production of this play it's the two lead actresses who most matter. Harriet Walter is astonishing as Elizabeth, able to play layers under layers beneath an often strategic exterior, while Janet McTeer, who as Mary must move over the course of the play from desperation to deep spiritual serenity, is nothing short of spellbinding. It's a thrilling, captivating performance.

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