Peter Oswald’s new version updates Schiller’s language, so that the dialogue sounds fluent and natural to contemporary Western ears. For instance, the first scene, between Mary and her nurse, Hanna (Maria Tucci), who’s raised her and sees her to her death in the end, plays like a 21st century mother/daughter moment, with all the warm, casual physical intimacy derived from a long and candid relationship. The dialogue’s realistic cadences abate what might otherwise be a very talk-heavy play.
The production exemplifies the austere, actor-centered Donmar Warehouse-style direction and design, which retains its appeal on Broadway. The sharp, cinematic lighting sculpts the actors, so that every word and every shift in emotion is recorded with searing verité. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who took so much flak for her work on the Mamma Mia film, creates a fluid, fast-paced production that focuses our attention on the human costs of state power, a theme that never loses its relevance.
The long-imprisoned Mary, whom her cousin Elizabeth (Harriet Walter) suspects of conspiring to usurp her title to the English throne, believes that if Elizabeth will meet with her, and allow her to make her case in person, their common condition as women trying to rule will prevail and her cousin will allow Mary to go free. Schiller’s play stages the meeting, even though it never actually took place. The scene between the two women—by two terrifically talented actors—is the play’s climax, though a subsequent sequence of arresting, carefully choreographed stage pictures and haunting sound effects lead the spectator through the doomed Mary’s march to the guillotine.
McTeer plays Mary’s final exit with ironic exuberance, as though death is finally her liberation. The men, who are the agents of her demise, line up at the top of the stage, facing off right into a bright, beckoning light. They linger there like harbingers of fate, while Mary completes her affairs and takes her place at the head of their line, in front of her trusty nurse, asserting her stateliness and her authority until her very end.
After this provocative aural moment, the play returns to
Mary Stuart’s final scenes underline
McTeer and Walter say that audiences have been so convinced that the two actors hate one another, they stage their curtain call to represent their mutual affection. After they take their separate bows, they put their arms around one another in a warm embrace and exit the stage holding hands.
Both women have been nominated for Tony Awards, and will compete in the June ceremony. But the Times reports that McTeer and Walters don’t care about the outcome, and are already chatting about what they’ll wear to the awards show. It’s not who wins, they agree—it’s how much they enjoy playing the game Mary Stuart so generously provides them as women.
The Feminist Spectator