Review: Pioneer Theatre’s ‘Mary Stuart’ features powerhouse cast in challenging roles

Pioneer Theatre's "Mary Stuart" stars Erika LaVonn (Mary Stuart) and Anne Bates (Elizabeth of England). Photo: provided

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Jan. 19, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Pioneer Theatre’s beautifully acted, thoughtfully staged production of “Mary Stuart” is a dramatic contrast to the stage’s last show, the loopy “The Play that Goes Wrong.”

“Mary Stuart” is as sober as the previous show was silly. And neither show was a fit for every audience.

“Mary Stuart” is a show for people who appreciate dialogue dense with meaning and complex arguments. The show, by Jean Stock Goldstone and John Reich, was adapted from Friedrich Schiller’s 1800 play about two queens, Mary Queen of Scots (1542–1587) and Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603).

In the fact-based drama, Mary, accused in her husband’s death, is a longtime prisoner in the castle of Elizabeth during a time of unrest. Elizabeth fears if freed, Mary would lay claim to the throne, as many believe is her birthright, ousting Elizabeth.

And those loyal to Mary would like to see that happen, and England restored to a Catholic rather than Protestant country.

For anyone who doesn’t already know who won the historic power play, a history book or Google search can reveal spoilers. What’s more important in this intelligent production is the lucid examination of both extraordinary woman’s points of view, as imagined by the playwrights.

Actress Erika LaVonn appears in the title role as Mary, still dignified and regal despite years of imprisonment. There’s a palpable power to the character, despite her powerlessness position.

Anne Bates costars as Elizabeth, who has given her life to her country and refused the attentions of men who tried to woo her for social gain. Bates is cool and authoritative as Elizabeth, and deftly communicates that England’s queen is also in a kind of personal prison.

The excellent supporting cast, well directed by Shelley Butler, also includes Robert Mammana as Sir Robert Dudley, Jamen Nanthakumar as Sir Edward Mortimer, Bill Kux as the Earl of Shrewsbury, Eric Hoffmann as Sir Amias Paulet, Joe DeBevc as Sir Drue Drury, Colleen Baum as Hannah Kennedy, Fenton Li as Sir William Davison, Allen McCullough as Sir Andrew Melvil/Count L’Aubespine, and Robert Scott Smith as William Cecil.

Set design, by Sara Ryung Clement, features what appears to be concrete or stone slabs, which at times portray gray prison walls and at other times are used for an equally severe and confining throne room.

Costumes by Brenda Van der Wiel are beautiful and ornate, and set a historical tone, but feature modern touches shake things up. Lighting by David Neville can take gray castle walls to scarlet, adding emotion at key moments.

One frustration in the production with such good acting and fine dialogue is the sound, which is a little muffled and makes some lines hard to understand. But each point is so well examined, audience members won’t get lost even if they miss a few words.

“Mary Stuart” continues through Jan. 25 at Pioneer Theatre. For more information on the theater, production and tickets, click here.


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