Two Queens come to Broadway


© Alastair Muir

“Two queens, one throne” is a bad idea for a fundraising event, but when the queens in question are England’s Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, the result is both fireworks and drama. London’s Donmar Warehouse Production, which opened on April 19 for a limited engagement of 20 weeks on Broadway, offers a superb new version of Friedrich Schiller’s classic play, directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!).

At the heart of the play is the conflict between the Protestant Elizabeth (Harriet Walter) and the Catholic Mary (Tony award winner Janet McTeer), who served as a focal point for plots against the British queen. You really don’t need to know your Tudors from your Stuarts: the production, which clothes the women in simplified Elizabethan costume, and the male advisers in 20th century business suits, speaks to enduring themes of power and ambition. The set, in which a black brick wall placed high upstage, represents both Mary’s prison and Elizabeth’s castle and suggests the ways in which both characters are locked into roles not of their own making.

Though there’s no evidence that the two women actually met -- it’s highly unlikely they ever did -- the dramatic confrontation at the heart of the play is one of the great set pieces of classical theater. The principals are regal yet multidimensional, and the minions who plot, scheme, and switch sides at a dizzying pace support them admirably. It’s one of the most powerful, moving productions I’ve seen in several years.

Mary Stuart is playing at Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue).
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