Jean Wolff, Jennifer Maren, Jim Pounds, Sherry Jo Ward and Shad Cooper.
Photo by Dan Norman
A battle of wills lies at the heart of Schiller's Mary Stuart, a modern-day adaptation by Peter Oswald of the early 19th-century play, bringing some intellectual heat to the depths of winter via Walking Shadow Theatre Company.
On one side is Mary Stuart, the queen of Scotland, long imprisoned in Britain for allegedly plotting against the throne. On the other is Elizabeth, the stone-faced virgin queen, unsure if she can do what the political climate demands of her.
The play comes off as a double tragedy. For Mary Stuart, her pride is leading her to the chopping block. For Elizabeth, it's a more subtle issue. By play's end, she has secured her empire, but has lost her closest advisors and confidants, leaving her isolated and alone.
All of this makes for a great meal for the company of talented actors. Oswald employs a wordy, Elizabethan style that gives us a lot of rich imagery, though there were times where I wished the playwright had trusted the actors to portray their thoughts through silence. Sometimes a glance or a subtle shift indicates just as much (or more) than the dialogue that follows.
While there is plenty of intrigue around court, it really comes down to the respective wills of Mary Stuart (Jennifer Maren) and Elizabeth (Sherry Jo Ward). The first half of the play builds up to a confrontation between the two, while the balance of the second deals with the aftermath of those minutes outside of Mary Stuart's castle prison.
Maren plays Stuart with a fiery intensity, driven by her Roman Catholic faith and the unerring sense that she is right in this situation: she is the crowned queen of Scotland, unjustly imprisoned (for nearly 20 years) for plotting against Elizabeth.
Ward gives us an Elizabeth who is steely in defense of her position. That's not a surprise. Elizabeth is a rare ruling queen in England, surrounded by a court of powerful men who plot and connive to improve their position at every turn.
The rest of the cast is solid as well, led by Robert Gardner as the cool and articulate Lord Burleigh, who wants nothing more than to see the Mary Stuart problem dealt with and out of the way. At the other end is peter Ooley as Lord Leicester, who has loved both of these women.
The play works as a political thriller and an examination of power at its highest levels. Director John Heimbuch balances these different sides of the piece well, giving the evening plenty of drive that carries us through the thorny issues at the core of the work.
IF YOU GO:
Schiller's Mary Stuart
Through March 1
7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Red Eye Theatre,
15 W. 14th St., Minneapolis
For more information, call 1.800.838.3006 or visit online.