Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Friedrich Schiller's 1800 play, in a sleek contemporary adaptation by Peter Oswald, ably balances affairs of state with affairs of the heart. Mary, a Roman Catholic, and Elizabeth, a Protestant, were first cousins once removed (Mary's grandmother was the sister of Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII); Mary originally sought sanctuary in England after losing power in Scotland, but her followers repeatedly tried to assassinate Elizabeth and place Mary on the English throne. In life, Elizabeth imprisoned Mary for 18 years and the two women never met face to face; the play compresses the time frame and gives them a juicy confrontation scene while elucidating the chess game between the women and among their adherents.
Director Richard Clifford keeps the intrigues easy to follow, although his double casting of some roles may be a way of suggesting little difference between the two sides. Mariah Hale's costumes, all in black and white, subtly convey the sense thata few duplicitous courtiers notwithstandingthe nobles were forced to make a clear-cut choice between the two queens.
Norris, tall and regal in her plain dress, conveys both Mary's grievances and her self-awareness; she knows she is not blameless but believes fiercely in the consolations of her faith. Twyford, magnificent in an embroidered gown and with pearls stranded in her hair, begins as the smiling, smoothly confident ruler before realizing just how precarious the situation has become. Other noteworthy performances come from Cody Nickell as the charismatic Earl of Leicester, who may be a sincere partisan or just an opportunist; Paul-Emile Cendron as the youthful fanatic Mortimer; and Nancy Robinette as Mary's serene servant.
Tony Cisek's scenic design and Rob Denton's intense lighting design extend the theme of two diametrically opposed sides in the struggle. Mary is imprisoned by grim black-painted walls of brick and stone, but the walls part to reveal the embossed gold walls of Elizabeth's throne room and, for a brief moment, a vague image of trees viewed through haze.