Review by Contributing Editor Veronica Schnitzer
Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth are in opposition. Mary is imprisoned in England while Elizabeth must decide her fate. Surrounded by men who try to control their decisions, the two queens are manipulated in their efforts to bring an end to their conflict. In Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart (directed by Anthony Kennedy), this story of the Renaissance, which originally premiered in 1800, is now combined with contemporary elements to create a unique piece of art that appeals more to today’s audience. In a dramatic performance by praiseworthy actors that is both chilling and captivating, this modern adaptation of Mary Stuart applies our current understanding of feminist issues to a historical event, and in doing so provides a commentary on the relationships between women in power and the men that surround them.
From the room in which she has been imprisoned for 18 years due to her claim to the throne of Queen Elizabeth, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (Jillian Harris) awaits a possible death sentence, with only her servant Hanna (Meagan Schroeder) as company. With a few men in Elizabeth’s court appearing to show loyalty to Mary, and risky secret communication, potential plots of her rescue are planned. After requesting a meeting with Elizabeth (Alex Petrachuk), Mary is granted the opportunity to communicate with her in person rather than by ink in order to appeal to her better senses, but ends up in a dramatic confrontation. With a death warrant needing only to be signed by Elizabeth, and with both queens’ actions and choices influenced by scheming men every step of the way, will Elizabeth make the fatal decision, or find peace with her cousin Mary?
In a role very heavy with exposition, Harris’ Mary is confident, well-spoken, and easy to sympathize with, despite her past sins. She is further humanized by Hanna, who has cared for her all her life. A very expressive and artistic movement and dance performance by Schroeder, which can be interpreted to be an expression of Mary’s true emotions, is perhaps incorporated to add emotional depth to Mary’s prolonged scenes of exposition, which occur simultaneously. This movement, however, occasionally distracts from Mary’s speech. Curtis Legault’s Mortimer, the nephew of Mary’s custodian who reveals his loyalty to Mary early on, has a notable performance displaying his terrific storytelling ability in a combination of movement and speech, as well as an ability to display contrasting character qualities.
The true stand out role of this production, however, is Petrachuk’s Queen Elizabeth. Petrachuk (who has just been honoured with two METAs) displays the full psychological range between having the ultimate power and control over all the men around her, and the vulnerable, broken qualities of a person being controlled. Petrachuk truly loses herself in a brilliant, disturbing performance that is particularly brought out in the much more captivating second act. An overall high point of Kennedy’s direction is the use of physicality in the majority of his performers. Interpretive movement is sensationally used to portray the script’s theme of control, among other things.
This production uses an old script to discuss one of the harmful aspects of patriarchy based on our modern understanding of it, and represents this endeavor by weaving together Renaissance and contemporary design elements. The true success of this play is in how this combination of old and new, realism and formalism, are incorporated into every aspect of the design and performances. The play is given an almost entirely grey, black, and white colour scheme in both set (Darah Miah) and costume design (Sophie El-Assaad), allowing certain red elements to stand out as symbolic. These costumes have the shapes of Renaissance clothing yet are made of visibly modern materials and incorporate certain choice creative pieces. The stage is decorated with white drapery that is subtly moved and changed between scenes, and at times used to conceal, and several chains hanging vertically from ceiling to floor are used by the actors in movements that symbolize imprisonment and control. Dark ink splatters are slightly visible on the drapery, tying together the theme of corruption as it relates to written letters.
The lighting design (also by Miah) includes both natural looking light and artistic contemporary designs, with angles and shadows used effectively in pivotal dramatic moments. Yet another display of this mixture of old and new is in the sound (Vanessa Zaurinni), with the cast opening the performance with an a cappella Renaissance choral piece, and electronic and other contemporary sound and music becoming predominant for the rest of the show. These sounds strongly add to moments of intense drama and occasionally surprise the audience with humorous timing of modern lyrics. With an ambitious use of video projections, the multimedia work generally added another level to the performance art, but at times distracted. Unfortunate technical difficulties with both video and sound also diverted attention in some instances.
In an inspiring display of character work, movement, and many layered designs, Mary Stuart blends the old and new in a whirlwind of drama and physicality, bringing to light important issues in feminism. We highly recommend this one-of-a-kind performance.
Review by Contributing Editor Veronica Schnitzer
MARY STUART plays at the Studio Jean-Valcourt du Conservatoire (4750 Avenue Henri-Julien H2T 2C8) through Sunday, October 30th, 2016. Tickets are $24-30 and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (855) 790-1245.
Mary Stuart is no longer officially affiliated with Obra anaïs performance ensemble and is being presented as an independent production.
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