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Friday, 1 May 2009

Another production for the "wishlist"!

So soon after noting the first, to hear of another B'way production I would love it if geography and finances allowed me to indulge in!

Janet McTeer as Mary Stuart? Fantastic casting, fantastic! One of my favorite actresses (I even loved her in the rather odd little movie on the gay and lesbian channel, where she played Gertrude Lawrence -- the title escapes me just now -- every time I turn the TV on we seem to have an entirely different line-up of channels... but I digress.)

Her stature and power as an actress is utterly in keeping with her physical presence.
in “Mary Stuart,” Schiller portrays the doomed Queen of Scotland in much the way she is popularly revered: as a Catholic martyr speaking truth to chilly English power, as personified by the frigid virgin queen herself, Elizabeth I. In Schiller’s play, Mary may “lose” the staredown with Elizabeth, and her head with it, but she wins the moral victory. She’s Thomas More with cleavage.

But plays are funny things; they can change their colors over the centuries, and even before our eyes. (We likely wouldn’t keep staging “The Merchant of Venice” or “The Taming of the Shrew” if this weren’t true.) In Peter Oswald’s pungent new English adaptation of “Mary Stuart,” an overlay of contemporary parallels subtly congeals over the action: As Elizabeth I (Harriet Walter), in period costume, mulls the fate of her imprisoned cousin Mary (Janet McTeer), she weighs disparate input from a series of advisers in brisk modern-dress that matter-of-factly suggest political debates—over executive privilege and accountability, over the use of fear as a lever of public opinion—of more recent vintage. There is hawkish Lord Burleigh (Nicholas Woodeson), who evokes both Donald Rumsfeld’s bantam brusqueness and Dick Cheney’s sour belligerence; there is the Earl of Shrewsbury (Brian Murray), a seasoned counselor of Tip O’Neillian stature who occupies the always admirable and almost always hopeless position of defending mercy on principle; there is the slippery Earl of Leicester (John Benjamin Hickey, in the show’s breakout performance), who might be any mid-career lawmaker on the make.

For her part, Walter’s steely take on Elizabeth—resolute in public, torn in private—creates a complicated portrait without such simple contemporary parallels. If nothing else, the moral limbo she writhes in feels close to the cloister occupied by Sister Aloysius Beauvier of “Doubt”—another fascinatingly illiberal figure who, for reasons we might sympathize with, nevertheless steadily moves herself out of the range of our sympathies.

That leaves the statuesque McTeer, last seen on Broadway in her Tony-winning turn as Nora in “A Doll’s House,” with relatively easy pickings, and she does not hesitate to tap the role’s heroic registers. McTeer is never less than magnetic, but her diva’s diva performance here—highlighted by a beatific romp in some very wet stage rain
And whatever this reviewer says, Harriet Walter ain't no slouch, either. I'd love to see it.

I get "home" so seldom, and with such rigid agendae, (whether joyous or tragic,) that short of planning a "theater vacation" I don't see myself seeing many productions in this one's league anytime soon. And Himself is not one for standing-room, or other potential bargains, so ...

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