BWW Review: MARY STUART at Olney Theatre Center - The Story about Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots Comes Alive
Everyman Theatre is presenting two plays in repertory: QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD and QUEENS GIRL IN AFRICA. Olney Theatre's wonderful MARY STUART could be labeled QUEENS GIRLS IN ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND.
Olney Theatre's Artistic Director Jason Loewith has a lot on his plate. Not only does he direct MARY STUART, he wrote it (adapted from Schiller's play of the same name) and also did the Set Design along with Richard Ouellette. He accomplishes all three tasks very successfully I may add.
It deals with the tale of two cousins...one the daughter of Protestant King Henry VIII, the other the Catholic great-granddaughter of King Henry VII with a claim of the British throne.
Stuart would be the wife of three kings. She began life as a Queen only six days after her birth. Her father James V died in Scotland making her Queen. She was sent to be raised in the French Court of Henry II where she married her cousin Francis II, the Dauphin of France. After he died, she returned to Scotland where her second husband, Lord Darley was murdered. She then married the man accused of murdering her husband. Upon his death, she then sought refuge in England after she abdicated the Scottish throne due to uprisings there. Elizabeth had the helm in England.
Elizabeth, known as the Virgin Queen, looked at Stuart as a serious threat to her throne, imprisoned Stuart for 20 years and never married. The play spends much of the time regarding what was Queen Elizabeth to do with Mary Stuart. The highlight of the play is when Stuart is granted her wish to meet personally with Elizabeth. They do so facing each other lying prostrate on their stomachs, eye to eye. She attempts to save her life but eventually, Elizabeth gave the order to execute her cousin which is considered regicide. In fact, there is no evidence they actually ever met.
According to the wonderful "Context Guide" in the program by Dramaturg Katie Ciszek, Elizabeth I "knew the diplomatic power that courting held, so she used it to her advantage. She also knew that marriage could reduce her powers; producing an heir could threaten her life." And it did on numerous occasions. (See below regarding a docudrama on PBS later this month about this very subject.)
No wonder this story has been the subject of many books, plays, and films!
Loewith has his acting troupe of six in modern garb (Costume Design by Ivania Stack) with occasional additions to the culture of England. They all enter the theater before the play starts and intermingel with the audience, breaking the "fourth wall". An interesting touch that I believe most theatergoers enjoyed. Then the great music by Sound Designer Matthew M. Nelson pulsates around the theater.
The play is in the intimate Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab that seats only 150. The stage is a plexiglass turntable (Designed by Loewih and Richard Ouellette) that reflects like a mirror which surprised the audience as it moved ever so slowly. There is an eight-sided similar platform above the stage and one can see the lights coming from above the set through the empty ceiling (Lighting Designed by Colin K. Bills.)
I can see many theaters choosng Loewith's adaptation. There is even a little romance. It really works wonders and he does so with an exceptional cast.
Playing the two leads are Megan Anderson and Eleasha Gamble. Anderson, a member of the Everyman Theatre Resident Acting Company, nails her role as Elizabeth. She wears a stylish pant suit, white blouse, and pearl earings. She's distinguished and has that "walk" like a sovereign. She also plays an assistant to Stuart while wearing a servant's cap.
Gamble also is powerful in her role as Mary Stuart. She gets the chance to describe the background to this tale and is persuasive when she hopes of meeting Elizabeth in person hoping for redemption. Her secondary roles include Davison, an assistant to Elizabeth and Aubespine.
Paul Morella excels as Burleigh, arguing constantly for Stuart's execution.
Chris Genebach plays Leiscester (and Paulet, Mary's jailer) who romances both Queens. The audience gasped when Elizabeth leaps into his arms. Genebach truly is powerful actor.
Michael Hebert does well in his roles as "Shrewsbury" and "Melville".
Jake Ryan Lozano plays three roles well, "Mortimer", "Ballievre" and "Kent".
The cast certainly deserved the standing ovation at the end.
MARY STUART runs until June 9. For tickets, call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
I recommend you visit the www.olneytheatre.org/blog to learn more.
Next up at Olney is the hit musical MATILDA which runs June 21 to July 21, 2019
DVR ALERT - Catch the three-part docu-drama "Queen Elizabeth's Secret Agents" on Thursday night June 20 from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 on WETA (repeating June 21 at 3 p.m., and June 26 at 3 p.m.) It spotlights the secret service that helped Queen Elizabeth I stay in power for more than 40 years during this time of turmoil in Britain.
While writing this review I listened to the CD of BBC's "The Virgin Queen" composed by Martin Phipps from the 1996 television series which addresses these issues.