Mary Stuart, written in 1800 by Friedrich Schiller and re-translated in 2005 by Peter Oswald, depicts the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots. It's part of the 2012 summer season at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Mary Stuart is the story of two powerful women, Mary and Elizabeth, who share the Tudor blood but are rivals for England's throne. Each woman is trapped in an impossible situation, blinded by pride and entangled in a web of ambition, political conflict and religious fanaticism.
As the play begins, Mary Stuart is imprisoned in England—nominally for the murder of her husband, Darnley, but actually because she has pushed her claim to the throne of England currently held by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Even though Elizabeth ordered Mary’s imprisonment eighteen years ago, she hesitates over signing her death sentence. She realizes that even though Mary, a Catholic, is a threat to her Protestant throne, it may be even more dangerous to execute her, because of Mary’s many friends and allies in Scotland and France. Mary, of course, hopes for a reprieve.
The story of Mary and Elizabeth is one of history's most fascinating, with Mary traditionally seen as a queen of fiery passion while Elizabeth rules with icy discipline. The Utah Shakespeare Festival has cast two excellent actresses in the lead roles, with Monica Bell as Elizabeth and Jacqueline Antaramian as Mary. Antaramian is particularly outstanding as Mary, who despite her years in prison has kept her pride and fiery spirit. Another standout in the cast is Steve Wojtas as Mortimer, a Catholic convert whose fanatical devotion to the Queen of Scots leads to a violent end.
Bill Black's rich costumes, especially the gorgeous dresses worn by Elizabeth, are a visual feast. It's also a treat to watch the show at the festival's beautiful open-air Adams Shakespeare Theatre, with the sun setting and the stars overhead by the second act.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Mary Stuart, but I was mesmerized by the story and the performances. The play's power struggles, conflicting motives, political intrigue and religious disagreements are relevant today, but its real strength comes from its central female characters. Elizabeth triumphs and remains on the throne, but neither woman can claim a full moral victory. If you are planning a visit to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, I highly recommend seeing this production. Arrive an hour early if you would like to see the Greenshow.
Utah Shakespeare Festival
Randall L. Jones Theatre and Adams Shakespearean Theatre in Cedar City, Utah
June 2-Sept. 16, 2012
435-586-7878 or 1-800-PLAYTIX
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