Review: A glorious 'Mary Stuart' at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago Shakespeare’s production of “Schiller’s Mary Stuart” is difficult to pigeonhole. Is it a political thriller, a historical drama or a pseudo Shakespearean play? One thing is for certain: it is an eloquent and elegant story superbly enacted by a talented ensemble of 16.

This riveting, albeit lengthy, 2 1/2-hour piece, is captivating; there’s intrigue, sword fights, plots afoot and enough glorious lines (and tell me they’re not relevant to today’s political climate) to keep you glued in your seat. Andromache Chalfant’s bold minimalist set, often described as “Brutalist Architecture,” is totally functional, utilitarian and won’t distract you from the focus on dialogue, except perhaps in that very last stomach-punch scene, wisely done without dialogue. Linda Cho’s costumes are regal, feminine, powerful and beautifully captive of the 1580s.

Director Jenn Thompson (a Lucille Lortel award-winner and five-time nominee for the Drama Desk awards) has guided an exquisite cast to a vibrant portrayal of history’s two most famous Queens: the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots and the infamous Queen Elizabeth the first. And we all know how this one ends ...

K.K. Moggie is Mary Stuart. Despite her marriages and murders, of the two Queens, she is treated by Schiller with more compassion and sensitivity than Elizabeth. Moggie is electric; she’s strong, intelligent, generous and heartbreaking in her portrayal of the Catholic Mary, the last in the line of the Stuarts and the legitimate heir to Henry VIII’s throne. She’s already lost her life imprisoned in Fotheringhay Castle (“no books, no visitors, no luxury of even a hand mirror”). Kellie Overbey, an equal match to Moggie’s talents, is excellent as the headstrong Elizabeth. Overbey’s facials, vocals and body postures compliment constantly the twists and turns the path this monarch treads as she debates “to reign in fear forever” or “send Mary to the block.” Or, as Lord Burleigh simply puts it, “If she lives, you die; if she dies, you live.”

And, yes, there are other usurpers to the throne of outstanding acting: Andrew Chown (Mortimer) and Tim Decker (Dudley, Earl of Leicester) have some of the very best scenes and attack their roles with passion. Robert Jason Jackson (Talbot) possesses a voice which clearly demonstrates all the integrity and morals of his character, and perennial favorites Chicago actors Kevin Gudahl (Paulet) and Barbara Robertson (Hanna Kennedy) continue to delight with no exception as they skillfully portray Mary’s truest and most loyal protectors. Throw in David Studwell as the manipulating Lord Burleigh and you have a match made in theatrical heaven.

Chicago Shakespeare chose British playwright Peter Oswald’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart,” an iconic and lengthy masterpiece written in 1800 and in verse. Fortunately for us, Oswald’s version involves cuts and the use of modern vernacular. It’s a saga that flows and sings and is laced with biting humor. But a few disclaimers. For the purposes of historical accuracy, you should know what is portrayed as taking place in a few days, in reality sufferingly was spread over 19 years. And despite the play’s Queen Elizabeth’s “impulse of generosity,” sadly, Mary and Elizabeth never did meet in person.

The Stratford Festival of Canada held “Schiller’s Mary Stuart” over for months due to its popularity. Perhaps Chicago Shakespeare had better plan to do the same.

• Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director who began her career onstage in 1985 at the Woodstock Opera House. Formerly serving on the Raue Center for the Arts Board, she also is a lifetime member of TownSquare Players and a retired District 47 teacher.


WHEN: Through April 15

WHERE: Chicago Shakespeare Courtyard Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago

COST & INFO: For one to rule, one must fall. Elizabeth I, Queen of England, must decide the fate of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, imprisoned and accused of treason. Surrounded by a cadre of men jockeying for power, each queen contends with seduction, greed and deception in a political power play with deadly stakes. Production time: 2 hours, 45 minutes, with one intermission. Tickets: $48 to $88; $20 for students. Tickets and information: or 312-595-5600.

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