BWW Reviews: Twyford and Norris Rule as Rival Queens in Folger Theatre's Superb MARY STUART

BWW Reviews: Twyford and Norris Rule as Rival Queens in Folger Theatre's Superb MARY STUART

Make no bones about it: MARY STUART at Folger Theatre is a must see production.

As directed by Richard Clifford and featuring the dual leading ladies Kate Eastwood Norris and Holly Twyford, this is a show that catches lightning as only live theatre can do.

The historical drama follows the last days of Mary Stuart, known popularly as Mary Queen of Scots, as she awaits her fate at the hands of the English court and her cousin Queen Elizabeth the First. The historical background can be exciting for aficionados or daunting for others. Suffice it to say playwright Friedrich Schiller, within this new and compelling translation by British dramatist Peter Oswald, takes care of the historical bits with ease as the play unfolds.

This is not a documentary, however, it is vibrant, exciting, intriguing theatre presented by artists at the top of their game. As the imprisoned Mary Stuart, Kate Eastwood Norris effortlessly presents the nobility and grace of the troubled queen without a country. Left with only her trusted nurse Hanna - a heartfelt portrayal by Nancy Robinette - Norris' Mary shows the balance of desperation and hope. As the royal cousin of England's "Virgin Queen," Norris wears the lengthy imprisonment like a weighty yolk, yet her elegance is never compromised.

BWW Reviews: Twyford and Norris Rule as Rival Queens in Folger Theatre's Superb MARY STUART
Kate Eastwood Norris (front) and Holly Twyford in Folger
Theatre's MARY STUART through March 8, 2015.

If Norris is the vision of truth, beauty and warmth, Holly Twyford as the regal and brittle Elizabeth displays the cunning and strength of England's female king. Twyford's Elizabeth commands, cajoles, flirts, and withers. She also reveals the frightened woman hiding beneath the wig and finery. Elizabeth spars with her trusted advisor and lover the Earl of Leicester - the dashing and duplicitous Cody Nickell - and the inner circle of barons and earls. The English queen also wrestles with her own conscience as public opinion and her respect for Mary's royal and family blood collide within her.

Schiller's play takes a bit of dramatic license and has the two titanic queens meet, arranged by Leicester and the Earl of Shrewsbury - played with knowing restraint by Craig Wallace. The meeting is brief but pivotal and seeing Norris' Mary face Twyford's Elizabeth - her cousin, her peer, and holder of her fate - is magnificent theatre.

Complicating the machinations of the English courtiers, Rajesh Bose is a fine Machiavellian as Lord Burleigh, Elizabeth's treasurer, a man I certainly loved to hate. Young and handsome Lord Mortimer (a character created by Schiller) plays Elizabeth against Mary as a double-agent with secret desires. Paul-Emile Cendron handles the character skillfully. As Mortimer's uncle, Sir Amias Paulet, Louis Butelli executes another fully realized performance as Mary's warder - an honest man with can remain loyal to Elizabeth while being sympathetic to the Queen of Scots.

Director Richard Clifford, who masterfully cast the show, also maintains a brisk pace from start to finish. The nuances of the political maneuverings and the personal turmoil are all made crystal clear. Clifford's designers have outdone themselves, providing a simple, yet majestic atmosphere. Scenic designer Tony Cisek's flexible set moves effortlessly from the austere Fotheringay Castle and Elizabeth's court, tinged in gold. Rob Denton's lighting design provides a fitting atmosphere for royal intrigue to take place.

The period costumes designed by Mariah Hale are stunning, especially the gowns for Mary and Elizabeth. One curiosity: I know my history fairly well and I checked several sources. Mary famously removed her outer garment upon the scaffold to reveal a red petticoat, displaying the color of Catholic martyrdom. In this production, the Scottish queen does not wear red in her final moments. This change by no means diminishes the play or performances in anyway, but I thought it should be mentioned.

The bottom line is two titanic figures of English history are made flesh and blood in MARY STUART. You can read about Mary's long imprisonment, the accusations aimed against her and her cousin's fatal decision to end the rival queen's life. Or you can come and be dazzled by the exquisite performances and sumptuous production. You have until March 8.

MARY STUART is two hours and forty minutes long with one 15 minute intermission.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker

MARY STUART by Friedrich Schiller in a new version by Peter Oswald. Directed by Richard Clifford for Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St, SE WDC 20003. 202.544.7077 Folger Library & Theatre Information

Photo Credit: Teresa Wood/Folger

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