To kill or not to kill. That is the problem facing virginal, tough as nails and naughty Queen Elizabeth I, referring to the other Queen in Schiller’s Mary Stuart, the very Catholic, smart as a whip and manipulative Mary Queen of Scots who has been imprisoned (under house arrest for 19 years – which gives one time to really think things out) for murdering her husband, marrying the murderer and seeking support from within her cell in a plot or two to take over the throne of England. Intrigue. Power. Desperation.
All this and more in the lengthy adaptation by Peter Oswald that could make good use of the axe and chop a good thirty minutes from this Domar Warehouse Production imported from London starring two excellent actresses, Janet McTeer as Mary and Harriet Walter as Elizabeth. They are both spellbinding. Too bad the play isn’t.
There is nothing more exciting than seeing the two Queens having a go at each other. When they finally meet, by pre-arranged accident while on a hunt after an on stage torrential downpour – which is the highlight of the evening – Mary and Elizabeth confront each other. It’s a war of words and wills where the dialogue bristles with invective. Nice.
Beforehand we see Mary, distraught in her cell. Protected by her jailer, Sir Amias Paulet – a fine Michael Countryman. She’s lost everything including her most valuable asset – her freedom. With tons of exposition to get through we sit there waiting for the eventual meeting. At court, Elizabeth is surrounded by her “advisors” – each out for their own good and telling her do this or that dressed in modern day business suits – lawyerly attire. The Queens are in rather elegant period costumes. Who can she trust? No one it seems. Not even the Earl of Leicester (a shrewd and I’ll do and say whatever it takes to further my position at Court John Benjamin Hickey) As good as he is as the man in a ten year forced relationship with Elizabeth and ex-lover of Mary I would love to see what Mr. Countryman could do with the role.
It all comes down to her signing and delivering the document that will result in the decapitation of Mary. If we only could get there sooner. Robert Stanton as Sir William Davison is brilliant in this scene where Elizabeth hands over said document but without actually telling him what to do with it. It’s very clever and extremely well done as she does not want to be fully responsible although she does want to remain Queen. It’s a question of kill or be killed.
The style of the play, as directed by Phyllida Lloyd is an odd mixture of Greek tragedy, Shakespearean soliloquies, some nifty dialogue, naturalistic and climbing the walls school of acting and some brilliance – mostly emanating from Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter. But Ms. Lloyd makes some rather strange directorial decisions. Why have Elizabeth with her back to the audience in an all important “advisor” scene? Why the period vs. modern costumes? (more economical than inspired). In an all important scene where Mary receives communion from her house steward (Michael Rudko) who carries an instant communion kit in his ultra light suitcase – chalice with wine at the ready (how the wine hasn’t spilled from the chalice in the suitcase is more of a mystery than will Elizabeth kill Mary or won’t she) took me straight out of the moment. The lighting by Hugh Vanstone is extraordinary. But it’s not nearly enough to light up this production. The fault lies not with the acting but with the direction and adaptation. I’d gladly trade off two Queens to revisit Geoffrey Rush in Exit the King.
Broadhurst Theatre. www.MaryStuartOnBroadway.com