Poor Queen Mary. Sure, she ruled En-gland and wore only the fanciest ruffs and sentenced hundreds of Protestants to violent death—a diverting hobby for any girl—but all she really wanted was to be loved, and laid. As she moans to the Pope, the Assistant Pope, and her transsexual tutor in Rachel Shukert’s Bloody Mary, “I am 37 years old and I have never known the love of a man, that is, the kind of love that can be shown with a penis.” Clearly Shukert’s anti-royalist comedy, directed by Stephen Brackett, offers a picture of the English monarchy never dreamed of by Masterpiece Theater. This history of Mary’s life and reign features gimp masks, Jewish divorce lawyers, Jimi Hendrix as a sinister guardian angel, and King Henry VIII, in the throes of sodomitic pleasure, gasping, “Fie, fie, foul fornicatress! Squeeze my immortal codfish as if your life depended on it!”
Until she’s crowned queen and thrust into hoopskirt and lace-up bodice, Audrey Lynn Weston, as Mary, spends the play attired in a Catholic-schoolgirl uniform accented with a vintage cardigan and Doc Martens boots. It’s the outfit of a disaffected adolescent, and the play wears that same too-cool-for-school air. The writing and direction betray precocious talent, but just when a scene threatens to become dramatically compelling, they fall back on a particularly lewd bit of vernacular or a lurid bit of blocking, and the energy scatters. There are larkish bits—King Philip II of Spain as an East L.A. cholo, Edi Gathegi’s louche Jimi—but they make for an unhappily jejune two hours.
While the actors are having a marvelous time, reveling in the cleverness of it all, they don’t always offer to let the audience in on the joke. Rather, they cavort and camp extravagantly, milking the sex scenes and gross-out moments with particular glee. Editing a script and reining in an eager corps are grueling tasks, but were Shukert and Brackett to dare—cutting out a touch of the smuttiness and most of the self- indulgence—they just might have a glorious hour-long amusement on their hands. But for goodness sake, leave in the tonsure hats. They’re a scream.
Mary, Queen of Scots, born just a few decades after the English Queen Mary, received an even more brutal cut than a tonsure when Queen Elizabeth I ordered her beheaded. Friedrich Schiller’s 1801 Mary Stuart, in a brisk and genial translation by the Voice‘s own Michael Feingold, is a dignified catfight of a play in which the rival redheads bicker their royal way to Mary’s doom. Like many a Pearl revival before it, the production proves solid, though a bit stolid as well. (It’s a pity Shukert couldn’t have lent it a bit of Bloody Mary‘s horseradish and pepper.)
In a speech to rally the troops at Tilbury in 1588, Elizabeth declared, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.” As far as Schiller’s concerned, women—in body or heart—aren’t feeble creature in the least, though they do fall prey to male wiles. Joanne Camp offers a marvelously resilient Mary—desolate in her isolation, but fierce when confronted—while Carol Schultz, as Elizabeth, proves a worthy rival, although her costume does seem to strain her voice somewhat. Those costumes, by Jessica Ford, are detailed and sumptuous, though they clash with Susan Zeeman Rogers’s dully modern setting. Schiller’s prose and poesy can have a rather cumbersome heft, but director Eleanor Holdridge dictates a swift and steady pace.
A royal motto, “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” translates as “Shamed be he who thinks evil of it.” Even critics don’t like to think of ourselves as evil—most of us, at any rate—so it’s fortunate that though the production’s a touch workmanlike, there’s much worth praising.