Monday, March 16, 2015

Mary Stuart—NW Classical Theatre—SE Portland

A War of Words

This historic drama is written by Peter Oswald and based on a play by Friedrich Schiller.  It is directed by theatre veteran, Elizabeth Huffman, and co-produced by Cygnet Productions.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre space at 2110 SE 10th Ave. and runs through March 29th.  It only seats about 40 people and is only street parking, so best get there early.  For more information, go to their site at or call 971-244-3740.

The time is of unrest in the world of royalty and politics and distrust among nations.  Political alliances are made, and broken, treaties and promises are conceived, and broken, leaders of countries come and go on a whim sometimes, it seems.  And religious persecution is common, holy wars rampant and deaths created by them, a daily occurrence.  The time period I’m talking about…500 years ago?  No, today!  But it is interesting how modern times mirror those in England and Europe 5 centuries ago.  There is a saying that those who have not learned from the mistakes in History are condemned to repeat them.  Tis true, as here we are in 2015 and it seems little has changed.

The story of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth the First of England is a complicated one, so I will try to give you a mini-view of the atmosphere of the times and a flavor of the relationships.  Mary (Luisa Sermol), although born in Scotland and legitimate heir to the Scottish throne, was raised in France and even married into French royalty.  She was spoiled, naïve as to the political and religious leanings of her birth country, erudite, Catholic, young and beautiful.  So, when she eventually takes the throne in her native country, she totally unaware of the political climate.

Elizabeth (Lorraine Bahr), on the other hand, was her cousin but a Protestant, not overly attractive, had a keen sense of politics and knew how to manipulate people to her own ends.  Almost the opposite of Mary.  And, being at war with Scotland, it is not long before Mary is captured and imprisoned, as she is accused of plotting her death, which is treason.  And Elizabeth has her loyal minions, among them the devious Lord Burleigh (Gary Powell) who feels that as long as Mary lives, she is a threat to the throne.

The Earl of Shrewsbury (Rob Harrison), a trusted old retainer, feels that it is bad for the royal image if Mary were to be executed.  Dudley (Joe Healy) simply flows whichever way the wind is blowing, espousing love for the Queen but is not beyond seeing if there is greener grass on the other side of the land.  Mortimer (Phillip Whiteman) is what you might call a Mole in the spy game, playing both ends against the middle, but doing it for baser reasons.  Paulet (David Bodin), technically her jailer, wants nothing to do with any attempts on her life, as it may tarnish his reputation.  And poor Davidson (Anthony Green), a dupe, trying to do what is expected but it caught up in a web beyond his own making or understanding.

Mary, though, is not without her supporters.  Among them is her faithful nurse, Hannah (Cate Garrison) a loyal companion that serves her mistress well.  And, toward the end, a priest, Melvil (Chris Porter), a loyal Scotsman bringing her much needed comfort.  The meeting between the two icons of history probably never took place but it would be remiss of any dramatist not to have included such an encounter.  And the dialogue between them seems perfectly in accordance of what might have been said had they met.  Also it a powerful dramatic scene as well, pointing up the strengths and failings of both characters.

But this is a play of words and ideas and so you must listen and cogitate the arguments, knowing that nothing is really resolved, it only resurfaces in different guises over the years.
Huffman is a master of the historic and classical material.  I fondly remember her mixing dialogues and characters from the Bard’s plays to have them meet at the Shakespeare Café in modern-day New Orleans.  And she knows how to use space very well.  She manages to stage this complicated story in a space not much larger than some living rooms.  Huffman proves the old adage that a play well performed only needs the author’s words, the actors’ talents and the audience’s imagination to be successful.  The rest is window dressing.

The entire cast is exceptional and well-suited to their roles.  But, without a doubt, it would be nothing if there was a mismatch in casting the two Queens.  And, in this case, they are extraordinary!  Sermol shows us the heroic aspect of Mary’s character toward the end but also manages to show her vulnerability as well.  Her worst sins may be that she is stubborn, naïve and uncompromising.  It is to her credit as an actor, that you can understand why she must die at the end, as the character senses it, too.

And Bahr, as Elizabeth I, not only has the right look for the character, but you can observe her thinking and plotting in all the machinations she gyrates in order to achieve her ends.  You also sense the intense loneliness she must feel, knowing that all that serve her have to be suspect, she can literally trust no one.  Bahr is terrific is giving us a one-of-a-kind performance!  Here image is seared into my brain in this role.  Bravo!

I do recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis send you.

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