Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: Mary Stuart

Elizabethan Intrigue Gets Royal Treatment
By Lauren Yarger
An entourage of seduction, intrigue, greed and deception follow Queen Elizabeth I and her imprisoned cousin Mary Stuart in Peter Oswald’s brilliant new version of Friedrich Schiller’s play Mary Stuart, getting a royal treatment on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre.

A fabulous Janet McTeer reigns as Mary, the Catholic Queen of Scotland accused of conspiring to kill her Protestant cousin Elizabeth I (Harriet Walter, in an equally riveting performance) and claim the throne of England. Elizabeth and her advisors take the next 19 years trying to figure out what to do with her: to kill her will raise rancor with the British people who have enjoyed religious peace since Elizabeth's ascension to the throne; to release Mary threatens Elizabeth's life and the rule of Protestantism.

Stripped of her freedom, most of her possessions, and allowed only the company of her friend and nurse, Hannah (Maria Tucci), Mary begs for a meeting with Elizabeth. Aiding her are the traitorous Mortimer (a delicious Chandler Williams), who is the nephew of her jailer, Sir Amias Paulet(Michael Countryman), and the queen’s favorite, the Earl of Leicester (John Benjamin Hickey), in a plot thick with and intrigue that makes it difficult to know for sure who is on which side.

The battle of deception and wits between the two “courts” is tense and compelling, even if some of the portrayals veer away from those we’ve come to expect. McTeer’s Mary is stronger and smarter than the Scottish vixen of most history books or popular movies portraying the doomed Scot monarch. Likewise, Walter’s Elizabeth is weaker and less awe-inspiring than the norm (Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth in two recent movies is the quintessential). Schiller also takes some license with Elizabeth’s advisors. One of the most influential, Francis Walsingham, is absent and Leicester, whom Elizabeth once offered in marriage to Mary, likely was in love with Elizabeth and harbored no secret feelings for the Scottish queen (I admit it, I’m a history buff when it comes to this period).

Historical nit-picking aside, however, the new version from Oswald contains dialogue that’s both lyrical and surprising modern without interfering with the 16th-century feel of the piece. The tension from both sides of the conflict, guided by director Phyllida Lloyd, is palpable and when the two queens finally meet in a really nifty rainstorm engineered by scenic and costume designer Anthony Ward, we’re not quite sure the two won’t end up in a catfight in the mud.

Ward uses all dark colors in the costuming: a somber black gown for Mary and “sun” polka Dots on black for Elizabeth. The only color comes from the scarlet gown Mary wears for her execution. The men all wear modern suits and ties. My talented director friend Misti who attended with me, suggested that the costuming might depict the men’s ability to evolve while the women are stuck in the period, which I though was a pretty savvy analysis that would not have occurred to me. Press notes later revealed, however, that the choice was triggered by limited budget resources in the show's West End production in London, where it played before opening on Broadway. Whatever its inspiration, the choice somehow works, as modern and historical blend in marvelous storytelling.

Stark black bricks are the backdrop for settings created with minimal pieces of furniture. Hugh Vanstone uses lighting and shadows to great effect, and in the scene where Elizabeth decides to sign her cousin’s death warrant, the lighting makes Mary’s head appear to float from her body.

Rounding out a really fine cast are Nicholas Woodeson, Michael Rudko, Brian Murray, Adam Greer, and Robert Stanton, who gives a terrific performance as Sir William Davidson, a young inexperienced courtier trying to figure out whether the queen really wants him to deliver Mary’s order of execution or hold on to it, knowing all the while his decision will mean the difference between needing to worry about neck sizes for the shirt under his suit or not.

Mary Stuart runs at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St., New York through Aug. 16. For tickets, click here or visit

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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