Sublime tragedy: Mary Stuart

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The fall main stage production, “Mary Stuart,” focuses on the result of the tension between two diametrically opposed queens: one’s spiritual redemption and one’s monarchical ascension. The language of the new translation by Peter Oswald, first produced in 2005, brings the original work into the present day. “Mary Stuart” is the result of Schiller’s desire to write a play that, as Schiller said in a letter to his friend Goethe, focused on pure emotion, unburdened by history. The story of Mary Stuart, although historical, centers on the emotionally gripping lives of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Queen Elizabeth I.

As rivals for the British throne, Mary Stuart (junior Zeina Masri) and Queen Elizabeth I (senior Maria Hotovy) are both divided between their desires for earthly success and for love. The characters’ complexities drive their dynamic throughout the play.

The play opens with Mary imprisoned with only her faithful nurse Hanna (freshman Emily LaFrance). The tenderness between Mary and Hanna as they struggle to retain Mary’s dignity by preserving her last private possessions strikingly contrasts the attitude of Elizabeth, who is introduced later, sitting on her throne, surrounded by a standing envoy of suitors and advisors in her palace.

The outstanding lead performances honestly depict both characters’ lives. Mary is shown as kind and loving, but the audience is informed in the first scene that she had her husband killed and married his murderer; although she repents now, she is not blameless. Elizabeth is coquettish and temperamental, but this can be understood as her way of maintaining her power as an unmarried queen. Masri’s and Hotovy’s performances are not caricatures of good and evil but kaleidoscopic representations of real people. The confrontation of the queens in the third act reveals not only the multidimensional nature of Schiller’s characters but also the power of Masri and Hotovy to animate and personalize these characters.

“[Schiller] was interested in sublime tragedy, one that has a numinous, spiritual quality to it, and Mary has that journey — her spiritual redemption and physical death, while Elizabeth’s journey is the opposite, as she says, ‘Love out. Rage, hate in,’ ” director and drama professor Kyle Lemieux said.

The supporting cast adds interest to the story as well. Senior Paul Lewis as Lord Burleigh portrays a man of justice, law and pragmatism, a dynamic shift from the impassioned queens. Junior Gregory Frisby, a last-minute stand-in for the Earl of Shrewsbury, executes the role seamlessly. Mortimer, played by freshman Nicholas Moore, the only character that lacks historical context and is a true invention of Schiller, engages the audience in trying to decipher his true intentions. Emily LaFrance as Hanna and Matthew Sawczyn as Mary’s trusted friend, Melvil, add gentleness to the gripping production. The male ensemble provides a strong foundation for Hotovy’s performances in court and Masri’s in prison.

The setting and costumes further contextualize and carry the story. The women’s dresses were designed, draped and built in the University of Dallas’ own costume shop by manager Susan Cox, with the help of guest draper Joanne Boudreau and many student workers. Elizabeth’s magnificent dress and heavy jewelry give her a splendid presence that seems like an extension of her monarchal power. Mary’s dress is darker and more subdued, with only a rosary and a crucifix as ornaments, but conveys queenly respect and her Catholic faith.

The music score, designed by Evyan Melendez, enlivens and modernizes the story with a contemporary heavy bass and a subdued pop sound, without trivializing or distracting from the production. The use of “God Save the Queen” in the final scene adds a deeper level of symbolism to the finale, impossible to render with dialogue. The story is historical, but the themes of power, love and religion transcend time, which the music reflects.

“Mary Stuart” is a triumph of theatre, bringing not only an interesting history, but also an emotionally compelling story to the stage. Hotovy as Elizabeth I and Masri as Mary Stuart are not just portraying 16th-century queens, but the desires and faults of real people, displayed on a grand scale.

Tickets are on sale now udallas.edu/drama. Admission is free for UD students, alumni, faculty and staff, $5.00 for non-UD students and seniors, or $10.00 for general admission.

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