Monday, April 20, 2009

Mary Stuart

For absolutely mesmerizing acting of the very first caliber, Mary Stuart, with the formidable Janet McTeer and the amazing Harriet Walter, is the ticket to see.
Donmar Warehouse has dusted off a grand new production of this 18th Century play by Friedrich Schiller, super well directed by Phyllida Lloyd. It makes sense in this day and age because it is about the abuse of power, unfair incarceration, false evidence, populism, authoritarianism/tyranny etc. You could substitute Elizabeth's court for the Bush administration and you wouldn't be far off the mark (except that Elizabeth I was formidably smart).
The two lead actresses, Janet McTeer, in the title role, and the amazing Harriet Walter as Elizabeth I, are worth sitting through the very long-winded speeches. They are fabulous. I thought Ms. McTeer was a bit of a ham, but given the enormity of her talent, she has every right to knock herself out. It's hambone, but of the highest quality. And she has some magnificent moments, as in her gleeful, vengeful rage after her tete a tete with Elizabeth, when she boasts of having won the argument. Something to Behold.
Harriet Walter plays Elizabeth as a smart, cold, narcissistic, but ultimately vulnerable woman. The contrast between the two women, one almost ecstatic in her faith and religiosity, the other bound by rules and pragmatism, is magnificent. Anybody who is a student of acting right now should run to see them and learn from two actresses at the height of their technical and creative powers.
The production is minimalistic (leaving the space to all those wooords) and it has some breathtaking theatrical effects, like an actual downpour that makes you gasp in wonder.
At the beginning I was afraid I was going to be bored out of my wits, because the scenes are long and some speeches seem endless. All the actors are wonderful (particularly Brian Murray, John Benjamin Hickey, who reminded me of Donald Rumsfeld, and Nicholas Woodeson). The one terrible lox here is Chandler Williams who plays Mortimer. He is the only one who seems to be straight out of a high school production. Unfortunately, he has some very long speeches.

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