Dramas of birthright and royal prerogative seem to fire the theatrical imagination on the other side of the Atlantic in a way they don’t here. No American, for example, could have written Shaw’s Saint Joan, which takes the divine right of kings seriously, if not at face value.
But while Shaw’s play, like Shakespeare’s histories, has much more to offer than a royal scorecard, the same can’t be said of Glyn Maxwell’s The Lifeblood, an enervating account of Mary Stuart’s
final days in a cell in sectarian 16th-century England. In its New York debut by Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, this British import delivers the breaking news that Mary, Queen of Scotland (Elise Stone), got a raw deal from a kangaroo court after languishing in legal limbo for 18 years.
The historical reasons that an English macher (Craig Smith) wants her dead—or that a meek, uncomprehending Puritan (Mark Waterman) is saddled with her custody—are mentioned, but not dramatized. Ditto a perfunctory plot to frame her for conspiracy, enacted in part by her unwitting secretary (Joseph J. Menino) and a roguishly sensitive double agent (Jason O’Connell). Devoid of context and urgency, the play essentially boils down to the cruel entrapment of a nice middle-aged widow whose only crimes appear to be an overfondness for sonnets and the ruby-red Catholic crucifix nested on her ample bosom. Stone’s combination of steel-magnolia feminine wiles and grande dame declamation wouldn’t be out of place on a TV soap. Directed by Robert Hupp, this costume drama is strictly off-the-rack.