Political intrigue, shifting loyalties and two powerhouses vying for victory over the other while advisors whisper their own agendas in their ears. No, it's not the upcoming Presidential campaign although one does resonate with the other. No, this is ACT's production of "Mary Stuart" directed by Victor Pappas and starring two grande dames of local theater, Anne Allgood and Suzanne Bouchard. And with this much history and pedigree on stage, what you end up with is a cutting machination woven together with humor, heart and venom.
I won't go into the entire history since the play does such a fine job with it (and because you could write an entire dissertation on the history) but in a nutshell we have the titular Mary Stuart (Allgood), Queen of Scotland, who has been imprisoned by Elizabeth Tudor (Bouchard), Queen of England, for her part in the death of her Husband. But the real reason for the incarceration is to hopefully keep the former Queen from leading a Catholic uprising on the Protestant monarchy. But even from prison Mary has schemes of her own and followers bent on freeing her and deposing Elizabeth. All the while each of these powerful women has advisors, servants and lovers urging them on down the paths of their own agendas. So who really are the ones in power here and which side will come out victorious (if either really can)? And that's the play that was the big hit in New York and London by Friedrich Schiller in a new version by Peter Oswald. And one can see why as it has such ties with political aspirations of today. No, people are not plotting assassinations of fellow candidates (we hope) but the figurative backstabbing and in fighting from the play could very well be pulled from CSPAN transcripts. And with costumer Frances Kenny's choice to put the advisors in fairly modern suits, that point is driven even further home.
Allgood is her usual superb self. But then I can't recall anything in which I haven't enjoyed her. She manages strength and focus while still remaining grounded and vulnerable. And Bouchard supplies the perfect counterpart with her fierce ideals undercut with a teasingly sexual, virginal sweetness. But these leading ladies are not the only gems in the production. R. Hamilton Wright as the duplicitous lover of both women, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, turns in a sublimely subtle performance which keeps you guessing on his loyalties to the very end. On the other hand Peter Crook as Lord Burleigh never once wavers from his views and opinions but still manages to slyly manipulate the Queen for his own ends. Joshua Carter as the devoted Mortimer gives a beautifully varied and emotional performance. And Marianne Owen as Mary's nurse, Hanna almost becomes the heart of the piece as only she stays completely truthful to her devotion throughout.
At times a bit verbose (but then that's the style of the period), ACT's "Mary Stuart is a truly solid and wonderful production with enough deceit to rival the sleaziest politician. And while we may not imprison each other (or worse) for differing values, the play manages to shine a spotlight on how little we've actually learned from history.
"Mary Stuart" performs at ACT through October 9th. For tickets or information, contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion