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It's Not Easy Being a Queen

[whitespace] By Millie

It's not easy being a queen. Or so it seems in ACT's production of Mary Stuart. Written by German nobleman Friedrich Schiller in 1800, Mary Stuart portrays the bloody struggle between two queens, each with a rightful claim to the English crown: Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots. While these first cousins never met, Schiller's imagined rendezvous forms the dramatic core of his play.

Carey Perloff, artistic director of the American Conservatory Theater, directs Mary Stuart with an operatic intensity, an imperial pageantry to impress even Emperor Willie Brown. Susan Gibney plays Mary Stuart, jailed by Queen Elizabeth for alleged acts of conspiracy against the crown. Stuart's long claim to the crown is well known, and her backing by the Catholic church makes her a dangerous threat to the Queen. Elizabeth, played brilliantly by Caroline Lagerfeldt, while eager to squash any who might oppose her, is loath to put her blood relative to death. The royal court, of course, is a snake pit, full of deceitful advisers with political and lustful aspirations, none above manipulating the queen to realize their goals.

It is the story of Queen Elizabeth, however, that is most engaging. Agonizing over this untenable situation, she signs a death warrant and impetuously hands it to a lowly court functionary to do with "as your conscious and duty command." One rarely associates such pained indecision with royalty. Later, the Queen's fervent pleas to be released of the double-edged responsibilities of monarch are genuine and moving.

Much has been made of the recent diversity on stage at ACT. But it is with Mary Stuart that ACT has turned in the first truly exotic production this season. With strong performances, a stunning set and rich costumes, Mary Stuart is truly impressive.

At Geary Theater, 405 Geary St., through April 26; $11-$51; call 415/749-2228.

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From the April 20-May 3, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc.