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Mary Stuart - Review

Two Queens Enter; One Queen Leaves


Mary Stuart on Broadway

Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer

Photo by Joan Marcus
London’s Donmar Warehouse sends Mary Stuart to Broadway, and we all learn a lesson in the perils of power.

What This Show Is About

Mary Stuart is an updating of a two-century-old play by the German playwright Friedrich Schiller. It imagines a meeting between Queen Elizabeth I of England and her cousin, the deposed Mary, Queen of Scots.

The meeting never took place, but these historical queens were indeed bitter rivals and enemies.

Historically, Mary, accused of plotting her husband’s murder and marrying his murderer, flees to England when Protestants claim her throne. Mary, a Catholic, seeks help from her Protestant cousin, Elizabeth. Instead, Elizabeth imprisons her for 19 years, and allows a death sentence for treason to be pronounced against her.

This is where Mary Stuart opens.

What You’ll Like About This Show

Janet McTeer, a Tony-winner for A Doll’s House, plays the fiery, flirtatious Mary. Despite her dire circumstances she refuses to renounce her claim to the English throne. It is a claim with some legitimacy and fuels Elizabeth’s fear of her. McTeer makes Mary’s contradictions believable. This is a brilliant woman ruled by her passion to have the world as she would like it to be.

Harriet Walter is equally strong as Elizabeth, another brilliant woman also ruled by her passions. But they are passions to make the world the way she wants it.

Though manipulated by the men who alternately love or want to use them, it is finally the confrontation of two women with personal power, but one woman with political power and the will to use it.

In the end, it is Elizabeth who prevails.

Donmar Warehouse is a small theater which had a small budget to produce Mary Stuart. Usually a sumptuous period piece, this Mary is pared down to its essence. Men in suits. Prison-like electric lights in Mary’s cell. On display here are the performances of McTeer and Walter.

Who’s Who and What’s What

Peter Oswald updated the script, and the production was directed by Phyllida Lloyd. In a real odd pairing, Lloyd is also on Broadway as director of Mamma Mia!, another story about warring women and the men around them, albeit much lighter.

Where and When

  • Broadhurst Theatre: 235 West 44th Street
  • Previews: March 30, 2009
  • Opening: April 19, 2009
  • Closing: August 16, 2009
  • Run Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (with intermission)
  • Genre: Drama
  • Advisories: None

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