Friedrich von Schiller's 1800 tragedy,Mary Stuart, pits two formidable 16th-century ruler against each other in a somewhat fictionalized version of the power struggle waged by Mary, Queen of Scots, with her cousin, Elizabeth I of England.
Pulse Ensemble Theatre's production of this rarely performed work, if somewhat stolid and unimaginative, was a perfectly respectable adaptation that boasted a terrific performance in the title role. As the doomed Mary, Laura Leopard projected a passionate, regal grace, as well as a touching vulnerability. It was easy to understand why Elizabeth, her claim to the British throne tenuous at best, would be threatened and wish her rival out of the way. But although she displayed moments of true power, Alexa Kelly's Elizabeth was no match for Leopard's Mary. Part of this problem is inherent in Schiller's highly romanticized account of their struggle. While Elizabeth is the bigger of the two roles, Mary is the more fully drawn character. With the balance of power thus shifted to Mary's side, it was impossible to believe that this Mary could have lost anything to such a dithering, vacillating queen. Leopard's and Kelly's best moments came in an intense scene where Mary, meeting Elizabeth for the first time, calls her a bastard and thus seals her own fate. Historically inaccurate (the two queens never met in reality), but dramatically viable and played for all it was worth.
Ed Schultz, as the sympathetic Earl of Shrewsbury, impressed with his dignified performance, as did Pepe Serventi as the unfortunate Davison. The other performances of the large cast ran the gamut from competent to somewhat less so under Tom Herman's clean but uninspired direction.
Herrick Goldman's gold-hued lighting against Jennifer Varbalow's black, gold, and crimson set pieces was effective, although at times the stage did seem a trifle bare. Terry Leong's costumes were spectacular and stole the show with their sumptuous period beauty. (One caveat: costuming the flame-haired Kelly in tones of crimson and/or rust didn't exactly do either the performer or the costume justice.)
If Pulse Ensemble's Mary Stuart did not ignite with the passion of its fiery heroines, neither did it embarrass with directorial excesses that pull focus from the script. It was a solid rendering of a long-neglected work that just might deserve to remain neglected. Then again, maybe not.
(Also featuring Mark Bogosian, William Broderick,
Lynne-Marie Brown, Carl J. Danielsen, Arthur
Lundquist, Anthony Rand, and Brian Richardson.)
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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita