BWW Review: Davis Shakespeare Festival Kicks Off the 2018 Season with MARY STUART

BWW Review: Davis Shakespeare Festival Kicks Off the 2018 Season with MARY STUART

The Davis Shakespeare Festival opens up their 2018 season with Peter Oswald's modern adaptation of Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart. Set in England in 1586, it explores the relationship between Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I of England. This battle of the Queens sets the stage for an intricate pas de deux of Protestant vs. Catholic, Scotland vs. England, and conscience vs. power. It is also a testimony on how much the world has not changed in the political arena-subterfuge, ambiguity, and blind ambition are as prevalent now as they were in 16th century England.

Contrary to many historians, Schiller paints Mary as a sympathetic creature beset by her human desires and lapses in judgment. Crowned Queen of Scotland as an infant and raised in France as a Catholic for most of her childhood, Mary began her downward spiral after the death of her second husband when she impulsively married the man who was widely believed to be responsible for his death. Mary was then considered an accessory to the murder and was forced to abdicate the throne to her one-year-old son. It was then that she sought asylum in England with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth, fearing that Mary had plans to overthrow her as Queen, imprisoned Mary for many years. Schiller portrays Elizabeth as a paranoid, indecisive, and flighty ruler who cannot get by without the strong-arming tactics of her principal advisors, Leicester and Burleigh. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, she is surrounded by a cadre of self-serving opportunists disguised as loyalists.

Schiller has been accused by critics as having an unnecessarily prolix style but, while this may have a hint of truth, the talented cast in this production makes short work of the verbosity. Sharon Rietkerk gives an outstanding performance as a beatific Mary, quietly professing her innocence until her showdown with Elizabeth, where she unleashes the full fury felt by her years in captivity and shames Elizabeth with her parentage, "You are a bastard! We all know why Anne Boleyn was killed." Jamie Jones is a complex Elizabeth-vulnerable and ambitious and altogether equivocal. It is a marriage of Rizzo, the Evil Queen, and Dr. Evil so perfect that you will leave unsure of what to feel for her. Ian Hopps gives a spectacularly eager performance as Mortimer, the lovesick Catholic martyr. Gregg Koski, as Burleigh, encapsulates the patriarchy and face of politics as we know it.

The costumes, while not in the 16th century period, do deserve recognition for their nod to character. Mary's delicate cream and pastel pieces contribute to her ethereal essence. Conversely, Elizabeth is seen in severe, asymmetrical, dark clothing that is perfect for the Queen that Schiller is trying to paint.

Director Rob Salas has succeeded in coaxing performances that stay with you and make you think. The explosive scenes come across as passionate and there are moments of poignancy that are heart-wrenching. As there is a burgeoning awareness of the need for more diversity in theatre, it is a pleasure to see a company produce a show that showcases two strong women in history.

Mary Stuart plays at Davis Shakespeare Festival through August 4. Tickets may be purchased by visiting www. ShakespeareDavis.org.

Photo Credit: Yarcenia Garcia

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