By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Despite the austerity of the set-less bare floor, the Philadelphia Artists' Collective's splendid production of Mary Stuart evokes the grandeur of the Elizabethan court. Schiller's classic drama, written in 1800, is a riveting battle to the death between two powerful queens, Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.
If you have a taste for opulent costumes (brava! Katherine Fritz) and for thrilling language delivered with passion and precision, don't miss this one!
The 16th century English throne has had much attention lately: we slurped up the TV series, The Tudors, and then the two prizewinning Hilary Mantel novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both of which were adapted for the stage for the Royal Shakespeare Company and are about to be filmed for the BBC. Mary Stuart picks up the royal story when Protestant Elizabeth (Krista Apple-Hodge) has kept Catholic Mary (Charlotte Northeast) imprisoned for eighteen years; she knows that Mary's "death alone can make the Queen secure."
Central to both their lives is the slimy, charming betrayer, the Earl of Leicester (Ross Beschler) who has dared to woo two queens. There are key noblemen (Brian McCann, Nathan Foley, Joshua Kachnycz, Adam Altman, John Lopes) who are partisans of each queen. Ruthless politics is their very dangerous game. Scruples are in short supply.
Apple-Hodge is a magnificent Elizabeth, shading her character with delicacy and finesse: a tiny laugh, a wink, a horrified dropping of the quill with which she should sign Mary's death warrant; she melts with love, she preens with flattery. Northeast gives us a Mary of great eloquence, who is both fearful and steely, bitter with years of being "immured alive," torn between hope and despair. The famous central scene, an "accidental" meeting of the two women outside the castle, is superb.
The fine cast is directed by Dan Hodge who moves the characters around the gleaming wood floor as if they were chess pieces. He has elicited stirring performances and brought this rare old play to vivid life.