By Mae Hunt
It’s 1587 and Mary, the Queen of Scots, is near death and embroiled in a rivalry with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of “Mary Stuart” opened this past Saturday. The play, originally written by Friedrich Schiller in 1800, is a dramatization of the final months in the life of Mary. There is a particular focus on the infamous rivalry with her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.
LTA chose to stage Peter Oswald’s 2006 version of the play, which makes some adjustments to Schiller’s original dialogue. Contemporary audience members, even those unversed in Tudor history, should be able to follow the story with relative ease.
Mary, played by Sarah Cusenza, has been imprisoned in England for a myriad of alleged wrongdoings, including plotting to usurp her cousin’s throne. Cusenza’s performance is vigorous and desperate, conveying both the purity of Mary’s faith and the precarity of her situation.
Conflict between Catholics and Protestants threaten to tear England apart, and Mary’s claim to the throne through her Catholic faith makes her very existence a threat to Elizabeth’s Protestant rule.
There is no shortage of sensationalized versions of Mary’s life to be found across the historical fiction genre.
Schiller’s play, like many others, focuses in on the rivalry between two of history’s most powerful and fascinating women.
After the audience is introduced to Mary in prison, the middle section of the set is rotated, and the stage becomes Elizabeth’s throne room. With this relatively simple detail, set designer Matt Liptak transports the audience to the other side of the conflict.
Elizabeth is played by Maria Ciarrochi, who effectively com- mands every scene in which she appears.
Ciarrochi is aided by the play’s makeup, hair and costume design teams. No detail is spared in transforming her into the iconic redheaded monarch.
The costumes in “Mary Stuart” are delightful. Juliana Cofrancesco, Abbie Mulberg, Carol Pappas and Robin Worthington, assisted by Lanae Sterrett and Lee Swanson, combine bright colors and rich textures to make each character seem larger than life.
Every costume appears to have an immense amount of thought and care put into it. As a result, the play feels grounded in itself even in the moments it departs from history.
In real life, Elizabeth and Mary never met each other. In Schiller’s play, they come face-to-face in an explosive confrontation that sees Mary gain the upper hand, if only to ultimately seal her fate.
In the production’s dramaturg notes, Griffin Voltmann writes that this fictionalized meeting grants catharsis to the audience. One may be inclined to agree.
The scene is fun to watch, with Cusenza and Ciarrochi each clinging to propriety until it seems no longer possible. The claws inevitably come out.
Consistent with historical evidence, “Mary Stuart” never fully explains the true emotional relationship between
Elizabeth and Mary. Rather, it explores the rivalry with all the complexity and nuance it deserves.
“Mary Stuart” is directed by Kathleen Barth and produced by Hilary Adams and Margaret Chapman. It stars Sarah Cusenza and Maria Ciarrochi.
It will run through May 13.
The writer, a lifelong Alexandrian, works in the fine arts industry. She is an accomplished playwright who was the former editor-in chief and fine arts editor of the Kenyon Collegian.