By Melissa Groth
I enjoyed Mary Stuart immensely, but I spent the five minutes before the show started being interrogated by an older woman as to my intentions for attending this play. She writes for another company that won’t be named here, but is targeting toward people probably closer to her age (55-65 who still dye their hair). Apparently, people my age aren’t interested in this kind of thing, and the play’s PR company should be spending their time sending out advertisements to nursing homes.
I couldn’t tell if this woman was insulting me, calling me stupid, uncultured; or if she was accusing my generation of those things. I told her there is certainly a population of people my age who are interested in theater. To that she answered, well MY students are about your age, and they are all interested in the fringiest of the fringe (paraphrasing here), and she doubts that any of them are interested in what Brightest Young Things (designed for people who consider themselves “hipsters” said derogatorily. I don’t think anyone considers his/herself a hipster) is posting. I thought, well your students must be very self-important super cool people. I tried to explain that despite her years of media experience, pandering to a dying generation is not the way to maintain a solid consumer base. I mean, what the fuck? Advertising to people in nursing homes? Has she ever been to a nursing home?
Anyway, that being said, Mary Stuart is totally like Game of Thrones, bro! Sword fights, intrigue, betrayal, manipulation. Basically everything a hipster millennial looks for in entertainment, except for a break every 10-15 minutes to check my Twitter feed.
If you’re unfamiliar with Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart, which you probably are because you are uncultured, disinterested Millennial like me, it’s the story of Elizabeth, Queen of England, Protestant, and her imprisonment of her cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, Catholic. Mary (Kate Eastwood Norris) is imprisoned for over a decade when Elizabeth (Holly Twyford) finds out she’s been sending coded letters to allies on the outside, planning the Virgin Queen’s assassination. Following the brutal reign of her father, Elizabeth struggles with the idea of executing her cousin. Her advisors give her conflicting, yet convincing rhetoric, and Mary herself is a master of persuasion. Unable to rule with the same unforgiving iron fist of her father, Elizabeth is tormented by the idea of taking Mary’s life, but is also aware of the implications were she to let her cousin live. What results is an intense battle of wits and cunning.
Characters tell lie upon lie to disguise their true intentions, and nothing is ever clear. Even Mary who, seems a steadfast pillar of innocence and virtue, can’t hide the true rage she still feels toward her cousin after fifteen years of imprisonment. Awarded a chance to meet with the Queen and thereby avoid execution, Mary loses her self-control and lashes out at Elizabeth’s hypocrisy. Nothing is straightforward, no one is righteous, and the lies captivate the audience as well as they manipulate the characters onstage.
Apart from being a story about manipulation and monarchical power games, Mary Stuart presents an interesting depiction of women in power, which I feel may attributable to the fact that this production is a “new version” by Peter Oswald. Both Mary and Elizabeth are strong leaders, and they each have moments when emotions override their rational thinking. However, there are no moments of stereotypical weepy hysteria. Rather, the emotional rawness makes Elizabeth and Mary stronger characters. Their male advisers appear more emotionally unstable and irrationally driven than the two queens.
Set design and costume are unsurprisingly gorgeous. The plot and dialogue are enthralling. Mary Stuart is incredibly interesting and entertaining with elements of subtle humor within the dramatic unraveling of royalty. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t be insulted by your geriatric seat mate’s confusion about your presence at this play so obviously above your intelligence level.