Mary Stuart is premiering tonight and tomorrow as well, so go buy tickets while you can and experience this Victorian drama for yourself. More information and tickets can be found here.
When considering Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, many envision a woman donning a Victorian-era gown, sashaying through lavish palaces, and, perhaps, sipping tea in a well-maintained garden. Few imagine the queen as a prisoner, though this is how she spent the latter half of her life. Even fewer envision the queen in a full-leather outfit, exiting a prison cell after nearly 20 years of confinement, while hymn-like music plays in the background, and yet this idyllic vision is the final scene in director Gisela Cardenas’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart.
The show took place in the Minor Latham Playhouse, located in Barnard’s Milbank Hall. As I entered the theater, I was greeted by acoustic guitar, and soft, white lighting on the stage illuminated two of the actors. One held the guitar, and the other, facing away from the audience, seemed to be pondering a notion of great importance. With a sense of calm about me, I took a seat next to a fellow theater-enthusiast and friend, and within a few minutes, the show began.
The production centers on Stuart’s final days of captivity under Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Stuart, played by Lily Whiteman, a junior Theatre major at Barnard, is loud, bold, and unashamed of standing up for herself while she attempts to negotiate her way out of prison. Various friends and lords try to help the captive, but the threat of Queen Elizabeth’s wrath hangs over their heads, and for the duration of the show, Stuart’s future hangs in the balance.
Providing a direct contrast to the ominous tone of the show was the bold aesthetic direction. “This looks like The Hunger Games,” my friend remarked, and with good reason, as the characters donned colorful, high-intensity outfits and hairstyles not unlike those featured in the dystopian film. Reflective gold foil covered Queen Elizabeth’s scalp, and her assistant, Lady Burghley, wore her red hair in a large bun atop her head. Burghley also sported an all-black, multi-textured suit and black feathers around her shoulders. Stuart, while wearing simple prison-garb for the duration of the show, trades the outfit in for a glossy, all-leather ensemble in the final scene, recalling images of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. The rest of the cast wore traditional Victorian clothing with an emphasis on voluminous frills and decadent textures, such as velvet and satin.
The first hour and a half of the show was tense and filled with uncertainty, but compared to the hour remaining after the intermission, it was a walk in the park. The final 60 minutes of the show can be characterized by drama, betrayal, death, and generally, plans gone awry. I sat on the edge of my seat as the actors skillfully argued, whispered behind closed doors, and attempted to quell the anxious and infuriated Queen Elizabeth (played by Julia Dooley, a sophomore Theatre major at Barnard), whose reputation in the kingdom hinges on how she deals with Mary Stuart. “To serve the people is to be a slave,” she announces, and despite her wrongdoings and her displeasing air, we sympathize with her in this moment, hoping that things turn out alright for both her and Stuart.
Cardenas’s rendition of this classic production mixes Victorian elements with contemporary while dealing with themes such as justice, mercy, judgement, and femininity. This combination provides us with a captivating look at the final days of Mary Stuart and, ultimately, draws us into the drama of the story.