A new version by Peter Oswald
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Broadhurst Theatre [A Shubert Organization Theatre]
A Donmar Warehouse Production
by Eric Green
Watching the Republicans and some Democrats squirming their way out of responsibility for the torture of prisoners looks a lot like the Stuart cousins in 1587 when the Church of England was solidifying its grip over the religious needs of English people. Who is to blame for the death, beheading, of Mary Stuart, the Catholic Queen of Scotland? Is it her cousin, the reigning Protestant Queen of England, Elizabeth and daughter of Anne Bolen…a wife of Henry the 8th? Or…..?
Theatergoers are given the following historical note in their Playbill so that everyone is up to snuff when the play begins:
"HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 1587
"England has been Protestant for nearly 30 years. Disaffected Catholics at home and abroad are plotting, with the Pope's blessing, to overthrow Queen Elizabeth. Mary Stuart has fled native Scotland after a Protestant coup. As Elizabeth's cousin, she ha a strong claim to the throne of England and has been under house arrest there for 19 years. As a Catholic, Mary is a rallying point for the rebel cause and is suspected of supporting plots to kill Elizabeth."
Obviously, for English theatergoers this footnote is not necessary. And, also, those who have suffered at the hands of the English dynasty are also well aware of their family problems. The Irish for example. This point in world/English history has been the subject of historical novels, plays and other cultural events for centuries.
For example, in the United States, a HBO series call, "The Tudors" the life and times of Henry the 8th, is a wildly popular mini-series. Henry the 8th was certainly an amazing historical figure. And, the sisters Boleyn, Anne and Mary, were equally popular with a recent major motion picture on their behalf.
The new Broadway show, Mary Stuart, with Janet McTeer, is a real masterpiece. Harriet Walter as Queen Elizabeth is also played with skill and real understanding of her character. The rest of the cast is your usual great bunch of well school and experienced actors.
Bringing a non-musical production to Broadway with not well-known actors is a real risky business for producers. The terrible economy is threatening all of Broadway and high end Off-Broadway theatre. It is really threatening non-musicals.
The play has a distinct two part feel to it. The intermission in this play was well placed. The first half could be criticized as having too many monologues. But, they were done effectively.
The second half was a masterpiece. Walter and McTeer were brilliant. It is in the second half when these two protagonists meet and exchange their love, venom and monarchy allegiances.
The second half starts with Mary Stuart in the rain for about 10 minutes. And, in fact, actual water fell on her and her effectively played assistant. They were both soaked.
The scenes leading up to the beheading of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland were priceless. Talk about passing the buck. It shows that powerful despots may have to scramble when they've made a mistake, but given their power, they, too often, get away with it.
Probably the success of the play was its excellent direction. Phyllida Lloyd directed this production. The British born director also directed the mega film hit: Mama Mia. According to the her Playbill credits she also directed the London, Broadway and world wide theatre productions of Mama Mia.
Theatergoers who keep track of the low ticket prices on Theatre Development Fund [TDF] web sites, this is one play that should not be missed.
Mary Stuart is nominated for the Best Revival of a Play by the Tony Awards. Both McTeer and Walter were nominated for Best Performance by an actress in a play.