Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review of Mary Stuart at Chicago Shakespeare

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Mary Stuart. It was a new version of Friedrich Schiller's play by Peter Oswald. It was directed by Jenn Thompson. It was about Mary (K. K. Moggie), Queen of Scots, and she had been imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth (Kellie Overbey) for wanting to take the crown. Mary is trying to convince Elizabeth to set her free. But Queen Elizabeth seems to like having power and uses it to manipulate the people around her. It is about power, freedom, and loyalty. I think this is a really compelling and intriguing show. I think they use a lot of powerful visual metaphors and it has incredibly strong leads.

The set, by Andromache Chalfant, looked a lot like a prison. It looked like stone panels held together with metal bolts. The panels would move back and forth for scene changes. I talked to my friend Courtney afterwards, and she said that the set reminded her of the work of the architect Louis Kahn. I looked him up, and the pictures of the Salk Institute look a lot like the set. It has the stone walls and a strip of water down the middle. It is very simple, but simply beautiful. The set could also be interpreted as a castle, since Mary Stuart is imprisoned in a castle. And the set also functions as the inside of Elizabeth's castle, which can be a metaphor for having responsibility for the entire country on your shoulders being a kind of prison. It's really interesting how much meaning you can get from a set that seems so simple. The lighting (by Greg Hofmann and Philip Rosenberg) at the end of the play worked with the set and it made me really emotional when the light shone through a cross made by the set. It made me think about how at the end, Mary was even more free than she had been before she was imprisoned because she doesn't have to deal with the troubles of being a queen. It reminded you that Elizabeth and Mary's religious beliefs weren't so different because they are both on stage with that cross made by light shining through the castle/prison. I think it was a really breathtaking visual metaphor.

The performances of both Mary and Elizabeth were phenomenal. They had this chemistry on stage, not a romantic chemistry but a hatred chemistry, that was so realistic and perfect. You could see that both characters had sympathy for each other, but not much; you would see these little glimmers of understanding. There was a speech that Mary Stewart had in a patch of water that she directed at Elizabeth and she was just going off on her and she just had all this passion in every word that she would say. Elizabeth just stood there, as if she were not fazed at all; she was so cold. And Mary realized she needed to make herself more of a physical threat and she just let out all of the anger she had built up when she was imprisoned. She starts splashing around and yelling; she is showing her emotions that are internal externally to intimidate Elizabeth. It is heroic in a way because she is fighting for her freedom and the freedom of her closest companions Melvil (Patrick Clear) and Hanna (Barbara Robertson). Elizabeth had some very great deceptive scenes. She is deceiving the people around her, but when they leave the room, you see her alone for just a moment with what she has done. You get to see the subtle moment of her pushing away the thought that what she has done isn't right. You have some sympathy with her, even though she does some terrible things and makes some bad mistakes, because you see that moment.

Loyalty is a very prominent concept in this show. Everyone is being loyal and disloyal to someone at all times basically. Some of the characters are romantically two-timing the queens, like Robert Dudley (Tim Decker) and Mortimer (Andrew Chown). Mortimer is tricking Elizabeth into thinking he can be trusted, but his real goal is to free Mary and get her to love him. But his desire for that gets perverted and nonconsensual. He essentially tries to rape her in one scene, and it was disturbing because the audience was laughing at it. I can understand if people were uncomfortable. And I see that the disconnect between him exclaiming how much he loved her and was going to try to save her and her trying to get away might be funny if he wasn't actually trying to rape her. Dudley is looking out for his own safety and trying to figure out if his own safety is worth more than his love for Mary. I'm not completely sure if he loves Elizabeth in the same way he loves Mary, but he is more loyal to Elizabeth--which might just be because he is scared of her. But he loves himself more than either of them.

People who would like this show are people who like loyalty triangles, glowing crosses, and splashing and yelling to get your point across. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is very politically intriguing and shows you a lot of different perspectives. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

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