roadhurst Theatre, New York
“Mary Stuart looks to be the prestige hit of the spring season,” said Frank Scheck in The Hollywood Reporter. Friedrich von Schiller’s play about the relationship between 16th-century royals Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, is itself more than 200 years old. But the work has been given “blazing” new life in director Phyllida Lloyd’s fantastic revival, starring English actresses Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter. Schiller’s script “details beautifully the rivalry’s personal and political aspects,” fleshing out the personalities of two strong-willed rulers with flights of dramatic license. The play’s high point, for instance, is an “imaginary depiction of a fiery confrontation between the queens,” who in actuality never met face to face.
Historians have argued for centuries over which queen “has the greater claim to the English throne,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. By contrast, this production’s two formidable leads share the stage equitably, without either one ever ceding place. McTeer excels as “the hot-blooded Roman Catholic” Mary, long imprisoned for conspiracy when the play begins. As the “ice-blooded Protestant” Elizabeth, Walter is paranoically protective of her hard-won throne, yet hesitates to sign Mary’s death warrant. The “fire and water” relationship between these haughty, passionate blue bloods is rendered with precision and finesse. Seldom has “the classical combination of strengths and weaknesses that define tragic heroes” been presented with such “lacerating insight.”
Lloyd and translator Peter Oswald make it easy for the actresses to shine, said David Rooney in Variety. Oswald “vigorously shakes off the dust” from Schiller’s German original, giving us a “muscular,” modern translation that’s a joy to follow. The director, known primarily for her work at the helm of the stage and screen versions of Mamma Mia!, handles this high-minded classical drama with surprisingly “deft balance.” She gives the production a bold look by costuming the rival monarchs in period dress while decking out the “scheming male bureaucrats” who surround them in contemporary business suits. Audiences are sure to thrill at this “juicy, regal smackdown.”
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