Review: Schiller’s Mary Stuart (Chicago Shakespeare)

| March 23, 2018

Kellie Overbey and K.K. Moggie star as Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart in Schiller's Mary Stuart            


Schiller’s Mary Stuart

Written by Friedrich Schiller
   New version by Peter Oswald
Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier (map)
thru April 15  |  tix: $48-$88  |  more info 
Check for half-price tickets


High-stakes political thriller


Kellie Overbey, Andrew Chown, Tim Decker, Kevin Gudahl, Robert Jason Jackson, David Studwell and Michael Joseph Mitchell

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents
Schiller’s Mary Stuart

Review by Lauren Whalen

Two women. One crown. No holds barred. This could describe a WWE match of today, or a history play of yesteryear. Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Mary Stuart is the latter. Kellie Overbey and K.K. Moggie star as Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart in Schiller's Mary StuartWritten by Friedrich Schiller in the 19th century and reimagined in 2005 by Peter Oswald, the story of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots still possesses thrilling and tragic relevance. In real life, the two monarchs and cousins never met, but Schiller’s play explores what would have happened if they had, all the while keeping the audience guessing whether its title character’s life will be spared. Jenn Thompson’s compelling direction and Linda Cho’s exquisite costume design, not to mention phenomenal leads K.K. Moggie and Kellie Overbey, make Mary Stuart an unforgettable tale of political intrigue and dire consequences.

The play begins with Mary Stuart (Moggie) locked in an English prison. The Queen of Scotland, who’s been married three times and has had many lovers, has been accused of treason. Only her cousin Elizabeth I (Overbey), the so-called “Virgin Queen”, can spare Mary’s life – or end it. While Mary is passionate and outspoken, even behind bars, Elizabeth is cool and calculating, but not without humanity; she’s aware all eyes are on her, every move up for public judgment. Surrounding both queens are male advisors, guards, and former flames, each arguing his own angle and competing for power, love and the grace of God. Ultimately, Elizabeth must decide what is right for her kingdom, her reputation and herself.

Kevin Gudahl, Andrew Chown and K.K. Moggie star as Paulet, Mortimer and Mary StuartK.K. Moggie and Kellie Overbey star as Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I in Schiller's Mary Stuart

While the play clocks in at almost three hours, Thompson’s direction is fast-paced and compelling, every moment earned. The decision to interpret the script as a political thriller is a wise one. In accordance, Mary Stuart’s design elements are also cinematic, incorporating eras beyond the play’s 16th century setting to give a universal, relatable feel. Oswald’s take on Schiller’s text is refreshing and modern: neither of the women is without her gifts or her faults. Mary’s recklessness and insistence on following her heart aren’t necessarily what is right for a leader. Elizabeth could do with more compassion for her cousin, but as a female leader in a male-dominated society, she’s under very tight scrutiny and knows it. Costume designer Cho beautifully reflects these nuances: all of the male characters are roughly period-specific and wear a mostly gray color palette in accordance with Andromache Chalfant’s simple set. However, Mary and Elizabeth’s gowns are bright and vivid, delicately constructed with gorgeous accents. Mary’s are more free-flowing, while Elizabeth’s are tightly buttoned and severe.

Overbey brings a great deal of empathy and intelligence to Elizabeth I, who in the hands of a less-capable actor could read as overly unemotional. Similarly, Moggie’s Mary is pure emotion without overacting, a delicate balance to strike. Mary Stuart is thoughtfully executed from beginning to end, hitting it out of the park on all counts. The gowns are eye candy, the cast gifted and the production team thorough. Reimagined by Oswald, Schiller’s play shows the complexity of humanity, and how one quick decision can almost immediately spiral out of control.

Rating: ★★★½

Schiller’s Mary Stuart continues through April 15th at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand (map).  Tickets are $48-$88 ($20 for patrons under 35), and are available by phone (312-595-5600) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 45 minutes, includes an intermission)

K.K. Moggie and Kellie Overbey star as Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I in Schiller's Mary Stuart

Photos by Liz Lauren 




Andrew Chown (Mortimer), Patrick Clear (Aubespine, Melvil), Tim Decker (Leicester), Kai Alexander Ealy (O’Kelly, Sheriff, Drury), Kevin Gudahl (Paulet), Robert Jason Jackson (Talbot), Michael Joseph Mitchell (Bellievre, Davison), K.K. Moggie (Mary Stuart), Kellie Overbey (Queen Elizabeth I), Barbara Robertson (Hanna Kennedy), David Studwell (Burleigh), Nathan Calaranan. Jake Elkins (ensemble interns), Alan Ball, Isabel Liss, Jeff Parker, Martin Hanna, Shanesia Davis (understudies)

behind the scenes 

Jenn Thompson (director), Andromache Chalfant (scenic design), Linda Cho (costume design), Greg Hofmann, Philip Rosenberg (co-Lighting design), Mikhail Fiksel, Miles Polaski (co-sound design), Richard Jarvie (wig and make-up design), Marylynne Anderson-Cooper (assistant director), David Woolley (fight choreographer), Caitlin Lowans (dramaturg), Kathryn Walsh (verse coach), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), Deborah Acker (production stage manager), Jinni Pike (asst. stage manager, through March 25), Elise Hausken (asst. stage manager, after March 27), Bob Mason (casting), Liz Lauren (photos)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Adaptation, Chicago Shakespeare, Lauren Emily Whalen, Navy Pier, Video, YouTube

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