Sunday, February 14, 2010
Mary Stuart in Austin Shakespeare's staging at the Rollins Theatre provides a powerful, cathartic experience for the spectator. Schiller's drama gives us two sixteenth-century queens, each with a claim to the English throne, wrapped in tangled interests of state and church, trapped together like scorpions in a bottle and surrounded by plotters, counselors, and mendacity.
This Mary Stuart plays like Shakespeare, with actors in stylized Elizabethan garb moving in a long court laid between ranks of spectators. Director Ann Ciccolella assembled a cast worthy of the aim, none more so than Helen Merino as the imprisoned Mary Stuart and Pamela Christian as Elizabeth I. The confrontation between them in the mid-point of the action is epic, a careful duet of encounter, reason, flaring passion and, ultimately, disaster for the prisoner, disguised as triumph .
The images and intrigues suggest that Shakespeare could have written this text.
Except, of course, he could never have touched this subject. These events were hot, recent realities in Shakespeare's time. He wrote and performed his first plays five years or less after Mary Stuart's execution in 1587, which occurred the same year as the publication of Holinshed's Chronicles, a major source for his plays. Shakespeare flourished under Elizabeth's reign, but the second half of his career was under the reign of James I, the son of of Mary Stuart.
There's a lot of background and history in this piece, virtually all of which takes place off stage. Schiller is remarkably adept in giving you a sense of it, including the scandals and sins of Mary's youth, Catholic plots against Elizabeth the Protestant queen, the formal hearing and trial of Mary Stuart by 42 peers of the realm, the machinations and courting of Elizabeth by the French royal family, the conflicting advice to Elizabeth once Mary had been convicted, and Elizabeth's ambiguous instructions once she had signed the death warrant.
You could study all that. Or you could go with the action, which alternates between Mary in her prison and Elizabeth at the court, equally a prison.
Read more and view images at AustinLiveTheatre.com . . . .