MARY STUART by Friedrich Schiller, translated by Peter Oswald, directed by Joseph Ziegler (Soulpepper). Young Centre (55 Mill). To October 13. $32-$59, stu $28, rush $20/stu $5. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNN
Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart, written in 1800, hinges on polarities: man and woman, royal and common, public and private, England and Scotland, Protestant and Catholic.
At its heart is the confrontation fictional, but so dramatic you want it to have happened between Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, who could lose her head for allegedly conspiring against the ruler of England.
But surrounding it are a number of other two-handed metaphoric sword fights, duels of wits over duty, law and how best to protect the state. Contemporary reverberations, anyone?
Director Joseph Ziegler knows how to play the rhythms of the piece, slowing down at times and racing along at others. As a result, what could be a series of talking-head debates has a good deal of theatrical fire, with characters moving from political argument to impassioned name-calling.
Almost no one is beyond manipulation here, and at times we wonder which statements are duplicitous and which are truthful. Most telling are the spoken lies undercut by the unvoiced emotional realities we read in characters' faces.
In a misogynistic world where men think little of women, both Elizabeth and Mary are at a disadvantage. Elizabeth trumps it by being the ruler, though she's not above playing the female card when she can win a political hand with it. Mary, who becomes an object of adoration or desire for most of the men, uses whatever means she can to secure her freedom and life.
Both Nancy Palk's Elizabeth and Yanna McIntosh's Mary are intelligent, rich figures, aware of the conflicts they face both in the world and in their souls. Some of the men are less fleshed out, a problem more with the script than with the performances. Still, there's strength in David Storch's Mortimer, whose loyalty is a constant question; Stuart Hughes as Elizabeth's favourite, Leicester; and William Webster and Oliver Dennis as nobles who propose different ways to deal with the Mary dilemma.
The production may not fully succeed, but Mary Stuart is a rarely staged classic worth rediscovering.