The Margaret Jonsson Theater (MJT) is a little building, but it houses some of the largest plays imaginable, and this season’s mainstage production is no exception. Filled with intense political intrigue, sexual tension and religious unrest, Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart,” directed by Kyle Lemieux, is soon to take the stage. After the great debate sparked by last semester’s performance of “Candide,” the University of Dallas’ drama department is in the final stages of preparation for another popular season.
A new version by Peter Oswald, this translation brings to life two of history’s most dynamic personages: Elizabeth I, Queen of England, played by senior Maria Hotovy, and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, played by junior Zeina Masri. The show focuses on the final days of Mary Stuart’s life and showcases each queen’s individual struggles to maintain and recover control over their respective lives and kingdoms. Mary, imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth for the past 19 years, has been accused and found guilty of conspiring to assassinate Elizabeth. The imprisoned queen of Scots is near the end of her rope when the possibility of escape begins to crystallize. Elizabeth desperately decides whether to sign the death warrant for Mary’s execution. While the idea of washing her hands of such a dangerous prisoner attracts Elizabeth, she dreads setting a precedent for regicide.
“If you kill one Queen, why can’t you kill another,” history professor Francis Swietek said.
Lemieux has long awaited a chance to bring this complex story to life.
“I’ve been eager to tackle ‘Mary Stuart’ for quite a while,” Lemieux said in an email. “It explores themes I’m very interested in investigating as an artist, and it’s a thrill to see the stunning work of our lead actresses Zeina Masri and Maria Hotovy.”
“[I chose the Oswald translation] because it’s alive and leaps off the stage and grabs you by the throat,” Lemieux said. “I love that about it.”
The translation combines prose and poetry, using elevated language that flows effortlessly and, according to Lemieux, highlights the drama of political ambition, sexual jealousy and spiritual redemption.
As with all its shows, the drama department aims to provide the UD community with an opportunity to rigorously engage great texts.
“I envision university theater as a central public sphere of university life,” Lemieux stated. “[It is] a leaping point for deeper conversations — emotional, spiritual and intellectual conversations. Theater has always had this function so I always hope our productions resonate with our campus community in this way.”
While the stories of these two rival queens, set in 1587, may seem distant from UD, the story itself is relatable on many levels. Sophomore Mary Hinze, the show’s props master remarked on its deep personal and spiritual themes.
“I know that, as a Catholic at UD watching the show, there’s a moment in it where I connect with it at such a fundamental level that it really offers me a moment of peace,” Hinze stated. “I think that making your peace with death is a big part of this show and I think that it offered me, particularly, comfort in that respect.”
Production stage manager, sophomore Ellen Rogers, spoke of the passionate responses she anticipates from the audiences.
“I think people will have strong, opinionated reactions to these strong, opinionated characters,” Rogers said. “I think people will decisively feel for Mary or feel for Elizabeth or be mad at Leicester or hate Burleigh. I think people will react strongly and viscerally and I don’t think anyone will walk away going ‘eh.’ Schiller wrote it really beautifully … so that I don’t see either of them as all victim or all villain. It’s really, really beautifully done so that you see all of the layers and the depth of them in really subtle ways that Kyle brings out in our actors really well.”
Though the events of the show happened over 400 years ago, they remain poignant. Both the drama of the Tudor and Stuart succession and the captivating personalities of these ambitious women will engage the audience. The drama department also published a magazine, “OnStage,” to share the cast and crew’s work, the narratives of the queens’ lives and the equally exciting life of the playwright, Friedrich Schiller. This magazine is the first edition of a new, biannual publication, which the department hopes will bring the community into a heightened intellectual discussion about the brilliant shows performed in the MJT.
The designers, cast and crew of this production have been working tirelessly since August to bring Elizabeth, Mary and the Privy Council to life. Their portrayal of this remarkable story is sure to be spectacular. The show opens Oct. 28 and runs through Nov. 7, and you can reserve your ticket in Haggar or online at udallas.edu/drama in order to experience this sublime tragedy.